As United Airlines continues to face backlash from their decision to forcibly remove a passenger from an overbooked plane on Sunday, reports have emerged of a United employee threatening to put another passenger in handcuffs if he did not vacate his seat.
Geoff Fearns, 59, president of a Southern California investment firm was traveling from Hawaii to Los Angeles last week when he was threatened with handcuffs if he did not exit the aircraft. Fearns had been in Hawaii for a business conference but needed to return to California earlier than expected, so he booked a full-fare, first class ticket for around $1,000.
Fearns boarded the aircraft at Lihue Airport, on the island of Kauia without incident and had settled into his seat when a United employee rushed aboard the plane. According to Fearns, the employee told him he would need to vacate his seat as the flight was overbooked and they needed to make way for another passenger. It was only when Fearns stood his ground that the gate agent explained that the airline uses a priority list and the other passenger was higher on that list.
Fearns details the situation from there.
“I understand you might bump people because a flight is full. But they didn’t say anything at the gate. I was already in the seat. And now they were telling me I had no choice. They said they’d put me in cuffs if they had to.”
Despite being threatened with cuffs, Fearns refused to leave the plane, so the airline compromised and downgraded him to economy, choosing to seat him, as Fearns described “between a married couple that refused to be seated next to each other and argued the whole way back. It was a lot of fun.”
Upon returning to California, Fearns contacted United’s customer service team with his story, requesting a refund of his ticket cost. A week later, the reply to Fearns offering to refund him the difference in cost between a first class and economy ticket, as well as a $500 voucher for future travel. In the email, United acknowledged that Fearns’ business was important to the airline and that “despite the negative experience, we hope to have your continued support.”
United is still reeling in the wake of footage of an incident earlier this week where Kentucky doctor David Dao, 69, was forcibly removed from a United plane at Chicago’s O’Hare Airport, suffering injuries to his face in the process. Video of the incident captured by several passengers quickly went viral, leading to a flood of disapproval on social media, with many customers vowing to boycott the airline.
United CEO Oscar Munoz initially placed the blame squarely on Dr. Dao, calling his behavior “disruptive and belligerent.” Presumably realizing what a mistake this was, Munoz released a second statement taking responsibility for the incident.
“I want you to know that we take full responsibility and we will work to make it right. It’s never too late to do the right thing. I have committed to our customers and our staff that we will fix what’s broken so this never happens again. I promise you we will do better.”
After last month being named “Communicator of the Year” by magazine PR Week, there is now a petition with close to 75,000 signatures calling for Munoz to step down as CEO.
In the wake of the incident, United stocks nosedived, with the company losing close to $1 Billion, or 4.3 percent of its total value. While stocks have recovered slightly since the initial dip, it remains to be seen what prolonged effect this will have on the airline’s value.
[Featured Image by David J. Phillip/AP Images]