The CEO of United Airlines has apologised and a US police officer has been suspended after footage of officers dragging a 69-year-old Chinese passenger from an overbooked United flight sparked global outrage.
As the flight waited to depart from Chicago’s O’Hare Airport, officers pulled the screaming man from his window seat, across the armrest and down the aisle by his arms.
Later footage showed him bleeding profusely from the mouth. A witness told The Washington Post the victim said: “I’m being selected because I’m Chinese.”
The airline was trying to make room for four of its employees on the Sunday evening flight to Louisville, Kentucky.
Passenger Audra Bridges posted the video on Facebook.
Her husband, Tyler Bridges, said United offered $US400 ($A534) and then $US800 vouchers and a hotel stay for volunteers to give up their seats. When no one volunteered, a United manager came on the plane and announced that passengers would be chosen at random.
When airline employees named four customers who had to leave the plane, three of them did so. The fourth person refused to move, and police were called, United spokesman Charlie Hobart said.
The passenger told the manager he was a doctor who needed to see patients in the morning, Ms Bridges said.
As the officers dragged him by his arms, a female passenger can be heard to exclaim: “Oh my God. Look at what you did to him.”
While United Airlines CEO Oscar Munoz issued a public apology, it has since emerged that he sent an email to employees praising them for going “above and beyond” to deal with a “disruptive and belligerent” passenger.
After his violent removal, the bleeding man somehow returned to the plane, looking dazed and saying he had to get home, witness Tyler Bridges said.
A second video shows the dazed and bleeding man repeating the words, “Kill me, just kill me” over and over. Other passengers can be heard attempting to calm him down.
Officers followed the bleeding man to the back of the plane, at which point another male passenger travelling with high school students stood up said they were getting off the plane, Ms Bridges said.
About half of the passengers followed before United told everyone to get off, she said.
The victim was then removed from the plane again, and United employees made an announcement saying they had to “tidy up” the aircraft, Ms Bridges said.
After a three-hour delay the flight took off without the man aboard, she said.
The Chicago Aviation Department said it had suspended one of the officers involved.
The US Department of Transportation confirmed it was investigating the incident to determine “whether the airline complied with the oversales rule”.
“While it is legal for airlines to involuntary bump passengers from an oversold flight when there are not enough volunteers, it is the airline’s responsibility to determine its own fair boarding priorities,” the agency said in a statement.
Airlines routinely overbook flights because some people do not show up.
– with AP