NEW YORK, (Reuters) – An aviation security officer who dragged a passenger off of an overbooked United Airlines flight to make room for employees has been placed on leave, Chicago authorities said on Monday.
It was the second instance in less than a month of public outcry regarding the airline.
The officer — one of three involved in the Sunday night incident — did not follow protocol, according to a statement from the Chicago Department of Aviation, and as a result “has been placed on leave effective today pending a thorough review of the situation.”
“The actions of the aviation security officer are obviously not condoned by the Department,” the statement said.
The incident was one of the top-trending topics on Twitter as users took to the website to express their anger over the forceful removal of the passenger from United Flight 3411 as it was about to take off from Chicago to Louisville, Kentucky, on Sunday.
Video of the incident posted to Twitter account @Tyler_Bridges shows three security officers huddling over the seated passenger, who appears to be an older Asian man, before dragging him on the floor.
Bridges said that the man told United staff that he was a doctor and had to return home to patients.
The airline said it had asked for volunteers to leave because additional flight crew needed to get to Louisville.
The outcry prompted a statement from Chief Executive Officer Oscar Munoz. “This is an upsetting event to all of us here at United. I apologize for having to re-accommodate these customers.”
Munoz said United was “moving with a sense of urgency” to work with the authorities and conduct its own review of the incident.
In Bridges’ video, a woman asks: “Can’t they rent a car for the pilots and have them drive?” Two uniformed men then reach into the doctor’s seat and yank him from his chair.
Fellow passenger Jayse D. Anspach, who goes by @JayseDavid on Twitter, wrote: “No one volunteered (to leave), so @United decided to choose for us. They chose an Asian doctor and his wife.”
While airport security staff were ejecting him, Anspach wrote, his face was slammed against an arm rest, causing his mouth to bleed.
“It looked like he was knocked out, because he went limp and quiet,” Anspach wrote, “and they dragged him out of the plane like a rag doll.”
Bridge’s video shows the passenger screaming as officers yank him from his seat. He is then seen being dragged down the aisle on his back by his hands, body limp, glasses askew and shirt pulled up above his navel.
Another video shows him, still disheveled from the altercation, returning to the cabin, running to the back of the plane and repeating: “I have to go home.”
Much of the uproar surrounded the appropriateness of removing a paying customer in order to accommodate airline staff.
“They bloodied a senior citizen & dragged him off the plane so THEIR OWN STAFF could take his seat,” one Twitter user wrote.
Other social media users questioned whether the man would have been removed as forcefully had he not been Asian.
Late last month, two teenage girls dressed in leggings were denied boarding on a United flight from Denver to Minneapolis because of their form-fitting pants.
Because the girls were using free passes for employees or family members, they were subject to a dress code.