At first, the airline asked for volunteers, offering $400 and then when that did not work, $800 per passenger to relinquish a seat. When no one voluntarily came forward, United selected four passengers at random.
Three people got off the flight, but the fourth was Dao, who said he was a doctor and needed to get home to treat patients on Monday. He refused to leave.
I thought the FAA maximum pay-off for overbooking was $1,350. Presumably United felt beating a passenger up was worth the $550 saving. “Friendly skies” indeed.
BTW, as there is no cap on airfares, why is there a cap on the pay-off for overbooking? It is another example of asymmetry between customers and providers.
Update: The Financial Times follows up various threads of the story, starting with
the flight wasn’t actually overbooked or oversold. All passengers were sitting in their allocated positions when a last minute decision to prioritise a four-person crew over passengers was sprung upon the operators of the flight. This, in many respects, makes the incident more troubling, since it’s now not just about a contractual renege but a claw back of a service in part already begun.
Naked Capitalism has chapter and verse on how wrong United’s actions were and how poor the media coverage of it was.