If you have been in Europe, Asia, or living under a rock in the past week, you may not have heard the latest travel buzz. Here you go. It seems a United Airlines passenger flying from Chicago to Louisville was literally dragged off a plane. Using the words from the airlines CEO, Oscar Munoz, the man – and three other travelers - were “re-accommodated” in order that four United Airlines employees could fly to Louisville.

This little public relations incident is blowing up in United’s face, especially when a letter Munoz wrote to United employees was leaked to the media in which he placed blame on the bloodied passenger. Not a good PR stance.

As you can imagine, we at TravelPlex have been asked in the last few days by many clients if such a scenario can actually occur to them. Does the fact that they have purchased a ticket guarantee that they will have a seat on that flight?

Well…. the hard truth is… no, it does not. Anyone can be bumped from a flight. Just last week we heard of a traveler being pulled from a flight because of the planes weight load (the traveler is 5’5 and weighs 120 pounds in wet clothes, so it was not a personal “weight issue”). Smaller regional planes (60-80 passengers) can “re-accommodate” passengers if the weight of a plane is too heavy. This occurs when airlines take on additional air cargo, pushing the overall weight of the flight to a dangerous departure weight.  

Airlines are allowed to do this due to a relatively unknown clause in a ticket sale called a “Contract of Carriage”. Basically, this allows airlines to force passengers off flights if volunteers cannot be found. It is a rarity though, occurring once every 10,000 passengers (or about once every other day).

Click here to access a Travel Pulse article explaining the Contract of Carriage rules