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DFW Airport police won’t ‘physically lay hands’ on passengers

Video shot by passengers captured police officers dragging a passenger from an overbooked United Airlines flight in Chicago.
Video shot by passengers captured police officers dragging a passenger from an overbooked United Airlines flight in Chicago. AP

Dallas/Fort Worth Airport police have escorted drunk and disorderly passengers off planes at the request of airlines. But they won’t “physically lay hands” on a passenger who hasn’t committed a crime, the airport’s director of public safety Alan Black said Thursday.

Black briefed the airport board in response to Sunday’s incident in Chicago where security officers from the city’s aviation department forcibly removed a 69-year-old passenger from a United Airlines flight that was oversold.

“From our perspective, that is not the way we would manage our business,” Black said. “If we engage a passenger, it is going to be at the request of an airline and we are only going to engage that passenger if we believe a crime has been committed.”

Black said the airport’s police department is reviewing the United incident and looking at as a case study to help with ongoing training for its officers.

“It’s just a horrible, horrible situation,” DFW Airport’s chief executive Sean Donohue said. “It has a negative impact on the entire industry and one I hope we learn from.”

The passenger, David Dao, suffered a concussion, a broken nose and two lost teeth, his lawyer said Thursday according to Bloomberg News. After United was unable to entice passengers to give up their seats for money, Dao was randomly selected to get bumped but refused to leave the plane. That is when airport police boarded and dragged him off the plane.

The seats were needed for United crew members who had to fly to another city to work.

When a flight is oversold at American Airlines, the largest carrier at DFW, employees must first ask for volunteers prior to the boarding of the aircraft, according to company policy.

“No one may be denied boarding against his or her will until airline personnel first ask for volunteers who will give up their reservation willingly, in exchange for compensation of the airline’s choosing,” the carrier says on its website. “If there are not enough volunteers, other passengers may be denied boarding involuntarily in accordance with the following boarding priority of American

“ In such events, American will usually deny boarding based upon check-in time, but we may also consider factors such as severe hardships, fare paid, and status within the AAdvantage program.”

Separately, Milton De La Paz, the airport’s vice president of airline relations, told the board that total passengers at DFW in February dropped 2.2 percent to 4,761,125. He attributed most of the decline to the extra day in February last year due to leap year, adding that the airport’s passenger figure would have increased 1 percent without that extra day.

Cargo operations also grew 16.7 percent in February partly due to American Airlines’ improved international cargo performance.

Andrea Ahles: 817-390-7631, @Sky_Talk