A local lawmaker wants to make sure what happened to a doctor on a United Airlines flight last month couldn’t happen in Washington state.
A proposal from state Rep. Jesse Young, R-Gig Harbor, would prevent airport police from dragging passengers off overbooked flights.
Under House Bill 2211, airport police in Washington could only help remove passengers from flights when there is a safety or security risk — not to enforce a private airline’s overbooking policies or other rules.
Young’s bill was prompted partly by the viral video of a passenger, David Dao, being forcibly removed from a United Airlines flight last month.
Young said he wants airport police to focus on making airports safer, not intervening in airlines’ contractual disputes with customers.
“If someone is belligerent on the plane, by all means get police and do what you have to do,” Young said. “But don’t distract police from doing what helps keep people safe so they can enforce what is a commercial matter.”
Young said his bill was prompted partly by an April 9 incident in which security officers at O’Hare International Airport forcibly removed Dr. David Dao from a United Airlines flight traveling from Chicago to Louisville. On that flight, United employees randomly selected passengers, including Dao, to give up their seats on the full flight to make room for crew members who needed to travel to the Louisville airport.
Videos of an officer pulling Dao from his seat and dragging him down the plane’s center aisle prompted outrage on social media, as well as apologies and policy changes from United officials. The airline later reached an undisclosed settlement with Dao, who suffered a concussion and a broken nose, and lost two teeth.
Young said he hopes his proposal prompts airlines to offer more incentives for passengers to voluntarily give up their seats on overbooked flights, so that confrontations like the one with Dao could be avoided.
“They should have just offered people enough of an incentive until they finally left,” Young said, calling that “a free market” solution.
As part of a series of policy changes after last month’s incident, United Airlines has said it will start offering up to $10,000 for a passenger to give up his or her seat. The airline also promised to no longer call airport security to remove passengers who are already seated.
Perry Cooper, a spokesman for Sea-Tac Airport, said Young’s bill wouldn’t change much for the airport’s police officers, who already have a policy of only intervening when passengers are violating the law or creating security problems.
Cooper said he could not recall anything like the United Airlines incident in Chicago happening at Sea-Tac. He said in one recent incident, an officer got involved when a passenger who hadn’t paid a baggage fee boarded a plane over the protests of gate agents, but the officer was able to talk the passenger off the flight using the intercom system.
“We don’t get called in specifically for anything like an overbooking. It has to be a violation of law or a security trespass, or those kinds of things,” Cooper said.
... Don’t distract police from doing what helps keep people safe so they can enforce what is a commercial matter.
State Rep. Jesse Young, R-Gig Harbor, on his bill to prevent airport police from removing passengers from overbooked flights
Young said his bill would still help clarify the responsibilities of airport police, while ensuring Sea-Tac’s policy doesn’t change in the future.
State Rep. Roger Goodman, D-Kirkland, said he’d be interested in giving Young’s bill a hearing in the House Public Safety Committee that he chairs. He called it “a timely issue,” citing other recent incidents in which people reported being thrown off planes, including a man who said he was ordered off a plane because he used the on-flight restroom before takeoff.
“It seems like there’s a rash of these incidents lately,” Goodman said. “I’m not sure what extra sensitivity there is with the airlines these days.”