Outrage erupted on social media after United Airlines forcibly removed a passenger from an overbooked flight on Sunday. Many fault the airline for removing the passenger on the grounds that the passenger was a paying customer.
Unfortunately, in most cases, airlines have the legal right to remove paying customers. This is because, most of the time, airline tickets are 'revocable licenses.’ Indeed, most tickets are not construed to be contractual guarantees by the property owner of the right to use the premises. This has been the law since the 1845 case of Wood v. Leadbitter involving the removal of a paying ticket-holder from an English horse race. This view allows ticket-sellers to remove disruptive attendees or cancel events due to unforeseen circumstances without incurring liability.
Of course, in the instant case, the passenger was not being disruptive, and the overbooking was foreseeable. And a ticket's revocability does not change the fact that United may have used unlawful force in removing the passenger. But nevertheless, my best guess is that the passenger did not have the legal right to remain on the plane. And if I were the passenger’s attorney, I would probably advise him to comply with the police officers’ order to get off the plane. The video of the removal is below.
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