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Democratic lawmaker calls for hearing over United passenger dragged off flight

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Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) is calling for an investigation into United Airlines after video surfaced of a man being violently removed from the cabin after no one volunteered to deplane the overbooked flight. (Alex Wong/Getty Images)

One Democratic lawmaker is calling for an investigation into United Airlines after a customer was dragged from the cabin of one of the company’s planes because it needed to make room for employees.

Despite intense criticism, United CEO Oscar Munoz has decided to stick by his employees, saying that while he “deeply regret[s]” what happened, he feels the forcefully removed customer was acting in a “disruptive and belligerent” manner, leaving agents “with no choice” but to call for back up to have him yanked from the flight.

But Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.), a member of the House Transportation Committee, is — like many who saw the situation unfold — not satisfied with the way United dealt with the issue.

“I deplore the violent removal of a passenger from a United Airlines flight this weekend,” Norton said in a statement Monday, The Hill reported. “Airline passengers must have protections against such abusive treatment.”

“I am asking our committee for a hearing, which will allow us to question airport police, United Airlines personnel, and airport officials, among others,” she continued, “about whether appropriate procedures were in place in Chicago and are in place across the United States when passengers are asked to leave a flight.”

So here’s a rundown of what happened: Apparently, United overbooked Flight 3411, which was flying to Louisville from Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport, and needed to make room for a handful of airline employees.

According to flight passenger Audra Bridges, who recorded and posted to Facebook the now-viral video of the man who was violently removed from his seat, a United official came aboard the flight, saying the plane would not be taking off until four passengers volunteered to deplane.

United reportedly offered $800 to individuals who would voluntarily give up their seat, but when no one volunteered, the airline used an automated system to randomly select passengers for removal.

When one of the passengers refused to leave the cabin — the man in Bridges’ video — United called for law enforcement backup to conduct what the company later called an “involuntary de-boarding situation.” In the video, the man’s head is seen being slammed against the armrest of a nearby chair before he is dragged down the aisle of the cabin.

The next time the removed passenger was seen, he appeared battered and bloody, sparking a firestorm of backlash aimed at United for its handling of the situation.

“The only information available has been that perhaps $800 was offered to leave the flight,” Norton said. “Federal rules require airlines to give passengers four times their fare or up to $1,250 if they are bumped from an overbooked flight.”

The delegate said that she plans to send a letter Tuesday to Transportation Committee Chairman Bill Shuster (R-Pa.) and Aviation Subcommittee Chairman Frank LoBiondo (R-N.J.) to ask for more information regarding common practice for dealing with situations like United’s.

Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas) and Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) also expressed concern over the ordeal. Lee called for more information about the situation, and Blumenthal tweeted that “travelers should know their rights,” providing a link to a page on his website outlining “airline passenger protections.”

Munoz, for his part, said United is looking into the ordeal.

“This is an upsetting event to all of us here at United. I apologize for having to re-accommodate these customers,” he said. “Our team is moving with a sense of urgency to work with the authorities and conduct our own detailed review of what happened.”

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