Nova Scotia

What should you do if you get bumped by an airline? 'Comply'

A passenger rights advocate, who was 'shaken' by a disturbing video of a man being forcibly removed from a United Airlines flight on Sunday, has some advice for those who get bumped.

'Optically, it's a horror show,' says singer-songwriter who had his guitar smashed on United flight

A man was forcibly removed from a Kentucky-bound United Airlines plane in Chicago, Ill., on Sunday after the flight was overbooked. (Mike Hillman/CBC News)

A passenger rights advocate has some advice for those who get bumped from their flights in the wake of a disturbing video of a man being forcibly removed from a plane on Sunday.

The incident happened in Chicago, Ill., on a United Airlines plane destined for Louisville, Ky., after the flight was overbooked and the man refused to co-operate with the airline's decision to randomly remove four passengers.

In a series of viral videos, the man can be seen being removed from his seat and dragged from the plane by three members of the aviation police, a branch of local law enforcement that covers security incidents at airports.

"I've been shaken by this video," said Halifax-based passenger rights advocate Gabor Lukacs. "This is the nightmare for every passenger, and while you may have a dispute with the airline, this is not how you expect or want to be treated."

Airline passenger rights advocate Gabor Lukacs says passengers who get bumped should record the person ordering them off the plane. (AirPassengersRights)

For those who may find themselves in a similar situation, Lukacs said there's not a lot a passenger can do at the time. 

"Technically speaking, the aircraft is private property. If the airline tells you to leave, you should be asking for documentation, … for confirmation that you are not leaving voluntarily," he said.

"There's very little that you can actually do because paying for your seat in advance does not guarantee you that you will not be bumped."

He said you'll be less likely to be bumped flying business class because those passengers have a higher priority.

Here's what bumped passengers can do

In this case, Lukacs said the passenger could have called the police himself and documented the situation with his cellphone to record the fact that he was not leaving voluntarily.

Lukacs recommends:

  • Recording the name of the person asking you to leave
  • Asking "Are you ordering me to leave?"
  • Asking "You understand this will result in legal ramifications for the airline?"

In the United States and Europe there are standardized rules regarding compensation that must be paid if someone is bumped from a flight, depending on how long it takes for the airline to get a passenger to their final destination. 

"In Canada, unfortunately, we don't have an air passenger bill of rights. So it goes airline to airline and each airline does whatever it wants, subject only to scrutiny by the Canadian Transportation Agency," said Lukacs.

However, the federal government said Monday it will introduce new legislation this spring that will address the problem of travellers being bumped from flights. An air passenger bill of rights was promised last fall to establish clear, minimum requirements for compensation when flights are oversold or luggage is lost.

'Optically, it's a horror show'

Dave Carroll is the Canadian singer-songwriter behind the popular video United Breaks Guitars, which he wrote in 2009 after seeing his guitar damaged by baggage handlers outside the plane window. Carroll's $3,500 Taylor guitar was broken as a result.

He had just landed in Halifax, coming back from a speaking engagement talking about his experience, when he heard about the passenger who was removed from the flight.

"And my phone lit up because people were contacting me about this incident and I was shocked. I saw the video of the man being dragged off the plane and frankly I couldn't believe it," said Carroll.

He said after his guitar was broken he received letters from the flight attendants and pilots of the flight, "saying they were feeling for me, that they had some real challenges in the culture of the company."

Carroll also has advice for those who may find themselves in a similar situation.

"Comply. If they tell you to get off the plane, get off the plane and then deal with it later. There's no need for confrontation because you're in a losing situation. But I think passengers should be prepared to stand up for their rights," said Carroll. 

Musician Dave Carroll, of Halifax pop-folk band Sons Of Maxwell, became an internet sensation with his revenge song, United Breaks Guitars. (CBC)

United Airlines also came under fire last month for preventing two teen girls from boarding a flight because they were wearing leggings while flying on special passes. 

"Optically, it's a horror show [for United]," said Carroll.

With files from Amy Smith