A Democratic senator is crafting new legislation to prohibit airlines from forcibly removing passengers from flights to make room for other customers after they have already boarded the plane.
The measure from Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) comes in direct response to a shocking video of a United Airlines passenger being violently dragged off a flight this weekend after the man refused to give up his seat to make room for an airline employee who needed to be transferred to another destination.
The incident has sparked widespread outrage, calls for congressional hearings and a petition urging United’s CEO to resign.
“We were all shocked and outraged this week when United Airlines forcibly and brutally removed Dr. David Dao from Flight 3411,” Van Hollen wrote in a letter to his colleagues laying out details of his measure and urging them to support his effort.
“It is outrageous that airlines can bodily remove passengers after boarding rather than providing appropriate incentives to encourage volunteers. Airlines should resolve these common overbooking issues prior to boarding.”
The so-called Customers Not Cargo Act would ban airlines from involuntarily bumping passengers on overbooked flights if they are already seated on the plane.
“We should act immediately to ensure that airlines cannot force passengers who have already boarded to leave the plane in order to free up seats for others,” Van Hollen wrote. “Instead, they must provide sufficient incentives to encourage passengers to voluntarily deplane."
Under current law, airlines are allowed to overbook flights and bump passengers against their will.
Department of Transportation (DOT) rules say airlines are required to first offer volunteers compensation in exchange for their seats before bumping someone involuntarily.
Anyone removed against their will may be entitled to compensation, the agency says, and must be given a written statement detailing their rights and explaining how the airline decides who gets on an overbooked flight and who doesn't.
The DOT has launched a review of the United incident to ensure the airline followed all protocols.
“While it is legal for airlines to involuntary bump passengers from an oversold flight when there are not enough volunteers, it is the airline’s responsibility to determine its own fair boarding priorities,” a DOT spokesperson said in a statement.