Passengers’ revenge | Inquirer Opinion
At Large

Passengers’ revenge

I haven’t yet — crossed fingers — been bumped off a flight, local or international. But I’ve seen instances of this airline practice.

The most vivid for me involved a mother and her two young daughters on a flight leaving Manila for I think the United States. The other passengers and I were already seated when the mother entered with one screaming daughter in her arms and the other tearfully tagging along. When they got to their seats, one or two rows in front of me, the girls refused to take their seats, squatting on the floor and kicking the backs of the seats in front. A flight attendant approached them, explaining to the mother that she would have to get the girls seated with seat belts buckled before the plane could leave. While we looked on and wondered how the drama would play out, my seat mate whispered: “I saw them at the predeparture area, and the girls were already kicking and screaming.”


“Please, please get up on the seat,” the young mother, looking near to tears herself, begged her children. But the girls continued to howl and scream. Once again, the attendant approached and said, “Do you think you could get them to sit down? If not, I’m afraid you’ll have to deplane and board another flight.” “Please, we’ve been here since early morning,” the mother pleaded. “They’re just cranky and sleepy. Can’t we take off without their being seated?” “That would be too dangerous,” the attendant explained. Then she  gestured to her colleagues, who approached and helped pull the girls from the floor and escorted the mother, who was crying by then, and her kids off the plane.

This was not as dramatic a scene as that involving Dr. David Dao, the Vietnamese-American physician shown in a video that rocked the FB universe being dragged through the aisle of a United Airlines plane, mouth bloodied, glasses askew, shirt riding up his torso. But to this day, I wonder what happened to the unfortunate mother and her misbehaving daughters, and if they ever made it to their original destination.


The video of Dr. Dao being “re-accommodated” from the flight from Chicago to Louisville sparked a firestorm on social media, reflecting the great consumer frustration with airline policies, many of which are enforced unilaterally and with little prior announcement. Some of these involve raising the fees charged for check-in luggage, restrictions on the number and weight of carry-on bags, even the “proper” attire for travel aboard planes.

But none rankles as much as the practice of overbooking, or selling more tickets than there are seats on a flight, and then offloading passengers in case of an overflow. In my years of travel, I have encountered a number of overbooking situations. Usually, when such an overflow occurs, the airline sweetens the deal by offering cash (or vouchers), free meals and sometimes even free accommodations to the inconvenienced passengers.

On one trip to the United States many years ago, the four of us were severely tempted by such an offer. But relatives in New York, where we were headed, would already have been preparing to welcome us and we didn’t want to inconvenience them.

United Airlines officials say they initially offered cash to passengers volunteering to vacate their seats, but when no one took up the offer, they then announced that “a computer” would select the four passengers at random.

That may put to rest allegations that the choice of Dr. Dao and his wife for offloading was based on race. (Chinese social media reacted so strongly that the stock value of United Airlines briefly plummeted.) Airline analysts say the choice of passengers is made using a number of factors: the amount paid (“first-class passengers are safe”), the passenger’s loyalty program (if any), how often a passenger has flown on the airline.

Still, the thought that a company that accepted your hard-earned money to bring you to your destination could, willy-nilly and sometimes without your consent, break its contract with you and even have you violently ejected rankles and angers. I hope the good doctor sues United Airlines, and I hope he makes a mint from his suit, even if only on behalf of all of us long-suffering passengers.

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TAGS: air travel, airlines, At Large, Inquirer Opinion, Rina Jimenez-David, United Airlines
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