By now, you’ve seen it. The horrifying video of a man being pulled by force off of a United Airlines flight.
Despite the claims swirling from United, Chicago Police and other parties that the passenger in question became “belligerent,” that he had a “troubled past” it’s clear to most viewers that the use of force by in this case was far, far out of line.
The incident has inspired questions from viewers. How was the airline able to get away with forcibly dragging a man off a plane? Could that happen to me?
We called Paul Hudson, president of the advocacy group Flyers’ Rights, to figure out what your rights are when you get on an airplane.
You do give up some rights when you get on a plane
It’s important to be aware: you are giving up some rights when you get on an airplane. By boarding an aircraft, you’re agreeing to follow the instructions of the flight crew. For example, by agreeing to be quiet on the plane, you’re, in a way, forfeiting your right to free speech.
“You have to obey the instructions of the flight crew even if they’re unfair or unreasonable,” Hudson said.
If something the flight crew asks of you is inappropriate, you can file a complaint or a claim after the fact. But in the moment, the flight crew is authorized to stay in charge for the safety of the flight.
If you’re asked to get off a plane, you have the right to compensation
If an airline asks you to get off a plane, you’re owed compensation. The government doesn’t regulate exactly how much they have to give you only the maximum. For a domestic flight, you can get up to $1,350. For an international flight, you can get up to $5,500.
Those numbers are the maximums for what you can get by cash or check not in vouchers. And the offer United gave for passengers to get off this particular flight didn’t reach that federally imposed maximum.
But you don’t have the right to stay on the plane
Because of the “contract of carriage” which you agree to when you buy a ticket and get on an airplane the airline has more rights than you, the passenger. So if a passenger doesn’t comply with the flight crew’s request even if that request is to get off the plane the airline can call in law enforcement.
This doesn’t make what happened to the passenger on United OK but it does make it pretty much legal, at least for the airline. (The use of force by police is another issue.)
Hudson’s goal with Flyers’ Rights is to make sure air passengers actually know what their rights are before they get on a plane both what they’re giving up and what they’re owed. Right now, a lot of passengers don’t know any of this.
“They should know their rights and their obligations,” Hudson said.
WATCH: Here’s United Airlines’ adjusted 2017 pre-flight safety speech
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