Brian Baker: Federal law prevails in United incident

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Recently The Signal published a letter by Robert Plassmeyer entitled “No crime involved in United fracas.” In that letter Plassmeyer disagreed with The Signal’s editorial “Lesson learned on the wing” published April 29.

But there are a couple of things wrong with Plassmeyer’s letter. The first is that Plassmeyer cites California penal code as part of his rationale, and the incident took place in Chicago. California’s laws are irrelevant.

Further, whenever an incident involves an aviation common carrier (an airliner), federal law is the prevailing authority, and it’s a major violation of the applicable laws to “interfere with a crewmember in the performance of the crewmember’s duties aboard an aircraft being operated.” (14 CFR 91.11 – Prohibition on interference with crewmembers.)

Now, Dr. Dao, who was dragged off the United airliner, certainly had the basis for a civil suit, as Plassmeyer noted. However, that’s a matter to be addressed in a civil court, not in the cabin of a commercial aircraft being readied for flight.

By refusing to leave the aircraft he was clearly “interfer(ing) with a crewmember in the performance of the crewmember’s duties aboard an aircraft being operated.” The authorities were therefore completely justified in forcibly removing him from the aircraft.

Additionally, he refused to obey the lawful orders of law enforcement personnel to leave the aircraft, so he was forcibly removed, thereby bringing his injuries upon himself.

Could the situation have been handled differently – and probably better? Well, there’s certainly been enough printing ink used lately analyzing that very question, and it’s been a major PR black eye for United Airlines, as well as the Chicago airport cops.

But all of that is Monday morning quarterbacking. The bottom line is that once Dao was given a lawful order to leave the aircraft, he was legally bound to obey that order.

Brian Baker




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