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Viral Video May Prove United Misled Feds During 2014 Rule Change Process

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Approximately three-years before a 69-year-old passenger was forcibly removed from the United Airlines flight at Chicago O’Hare  the company reportedly promised federal regulators all ticketed passengers would have seats onboard flights.

According to the International Business Times, United Airlines officials spoke to the feds in September 2014 and detailed its displeasure with proposed rule changes that required additional airline disclosure on passenger fees. One key issue at the September 2014 meeting was a rule that would require airlines to explicitly disclose fees tied to reserving seats onboard aircraft.

The IB Times obtained a copy of United’s responses to Department of Transportation proposed rule changes and let’s just say it does not look good for the airline, in the aftermath of the viral incident. The response states:

Including advance-seat-assignment charges among the ‘basic ancillary service’ fees that must be disclosed as part of initial fare displays makes no sense. Every ticket, of course, guarantees a passenger a seat on the plane, with no additional mandatory seat-assignment charges.

However, United did make an apparent promise to regulators that all ticketed passengers would have a seat onboard the aircraft.  The document states:

Importantly, every passenger who buys a ticket on a United flight or a flight on any of United’s partners or competitors in the United States will be assigned a seat at no additional charge.  Therefore, the rule does not need to prescribe how carriers must disclose charges concerning advance seat assignments because passengers need not purchase this service to receive a seat assignment.”

(emphasis added).

The company has faced a barrage of criticism, prompting company CEO Oscar Munoz to issue multiple apologies and express his regret at how this all happened.

There is still no federal rule prohibiting the overbooking of flights (as many readers have probably experienced first hand), and despite the “promise” from United to regulators in 2014, apparently fine print on the ticket’s “contract of carriage” agreement gives United the right to bump passengers off flights for a number of reasons. So, it would appear that “promise” in 2014 did not mean much in reality.

As a result, the viral video has gotten the attention of U.S. lawmakers, who reportedly plan to get answers from United and the Chicago Aviation Authority regarding the removal of the passenger.

Furthermore, late Tuesday, DNA Info is reporting the man removed from the plane has hired a high-profile Chicago attorney Tom Demetrio of Corboy and Demetrio. In addition to Demetrio, the passenger is represented by Stephen L. Golan, who issued a brief statement on the victim’s behalf. Golan said the victim is undergoing treatment at a Chicago area hospital for his injuries and his “family . . . wants the world to know that they are very appreciative of the outpouring of prayers, concern and support they have received.”The family is currently focused on his recovery and necessary medical care.

“Until Dr. Dao is released from the hospital, the family is asking for privacy and will not be making any statements to the media,” all the attorneys said in a joint statement.

We have reached to United and will update this story with a reply.

[image via screengrab]

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