United Airlines Cites Wrong Rule For Illegally De-Boarding Passenger

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In my belief, United Airlines is citing the wrong federal rule to justify its illegal request to force a passenger already boarded and seated to disembark so they could make room for crew members being flown to a new assignment.

Under a federal rule [14 CFR 253], commercial airlines are governed by a document known as a “Contract of Carriage” [COC], a legally binding contract which, among other things, protects the legal rights of passengers, and imposes legal duties upon carriers.  United’s COC contains two distinct sections: Rule 21 entitled “Refusal of Transport,” and Rule 25 entitled “Denied Boarding Compensation.”

United is incorrectly citing the denied boarding compensation rule in its COC, and the federal rule upon which it is based [14 CFR 250.5], to justify requiring a passenger who has already been permitted to board and taken a seat to involuntarily disembark.

But that rule, as its title and history clearly establish, applies only if an airline wishes to deny boarding to a passenger, not to remove a passenger who has already boarded an airplane.

The current federal rule grew out of a situation in which Ralph Nader was denied the opportunity to board a flight, even though he had a valid ticket.  He sued, in a case which went to the U.S. Supreme Court, and it was eventually held that he was entitled to compensation if he was denied boarding.

As a direct result, the government adopted a rule which permits a carrier to deny boarding to a ticketed passenger, but only after going through a process of seeking other passengers to give up their seats.

United’s Rule 25, as its title clearly implies, applies only to denied boarding. Thus, it uses the word “denied boarding,” and variants such as “deny boarding,” but says nothing about requiring passengers who have already boarded to give up their seats.

Indeed, it states in part, using the word “boarding” twice, that: “other passengers may be denied boarding involuntarily in accordance with UA’s boarding priority.

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