By now, I can imagine a lot of you have seen the dramatic footage of a passenger being forcibly removed from a United Airlines flight in order to make room for United employees that needed to board.  According to United, the flight was overbooked, and they requested volunteers for anyone who would be willing to relinquish their seat for compensation.  Reports suggest that passengers were offered as much as $800 as well as lodging expenses to allow themselves to be bumped, and even media outlets have reported on how unusual it was that no one was willing to accept the deal.  When that proved unsuccessful, they were forced, according to statements from United, to allow the computer to choose who would be bumped and consequently removed from the already fully boarded plane.

While allowing the plane to board completely before realizing it was overbooked was unusual, and all passengers refusing a payday in exchange for their flight was surprising, what happened next would secure United Airlines a spot in the bad press hall of fame.  Dozens of passengers witnessed (and filmed) an aviation security officer board the plane and physically remove a middle-aged man from his seat and then drag the now-bleeding passenger down the narrow walkway in the middle of the aircraft.

Just what possessed the aviation security officer to get so physical in his efforts to remove the man, or why the man was so passionately unwilling to relinquish his seat are both interesting tid-bits of this story – but ultimately, they’re inconsequential in regard the bigger question this situation poses to the public: what rights do you have as an airline passenger?

SOFREP’s staff have a lot of things in common; among them is the fact that we’re all pretty well-traveled folks.  I’ve personally been to more countries than I can count on all my fingers and toes, and I’ve got the commensurate number of commercial flight horror stories to accompany that list.  I’ve had airline employees be rude to me in languages I hope to never understand, lost bags across time zones more often than I’ve arrived at a destination on time, and slept more nights under the atrocious airport fluorescent lights in some months than I have in my own bed… and over the years I’ve slowly learned the same lessons that poor man had forced down his throat by aviation security in a matter of seconds: airlines don’t owe you anything.

Now, I’m clearly speaking from a legal sense, not from the perspective of an angry passenger that can’t believe his flight’s been canceled again ­– if you’re interested to know how I’ve handed that in the past, you can easily run through my Twitter feed until you find three days’ worth of ranting and raving at American Airlines for leaving me stranded in Pennsylvania a year or two ago.  I’d rather you didn’t – I’m not proud of how whiny I got at around the thirty-six-hour mark of wandering around Philadelphia’s airport, but suffice to say, I felt as though their customer service representatives owed me at least an explanation for my trouble as a paying customer.  That inferred debt, however, wasn’t based on a legal requirement to appease me, but rather the logical behavior of a company that wants to retain a customer.

When you book a flight, one of the numerous agreements we all anxiously click past is referred to in the business as a “contract of carriage.”  This agreement, like the terms and conditions of Facebook, are usually ignored by passengers as they plan their vacations or business trips, but define clearly what the airline owes you in exchange for your money.

“Airline contracts of carriage do state that your seat isn’t guaranteed, and there is language in them to cover refusing to fly someone at their discretion,” George Hobica, president of, told reporters after the video made the rounds on the internet.

“Passengers have far fewer ‘rights’ than they imagine.”