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After United dragging incident, senator introduces bill with more passenger protections

Sen. Chris Van Hollen has introduced legislation to respond to the United Airlines incident in which a passenger was forcibly removed from his flight on Sunday.

The Maryland Democrat’s “Customers Not Cargo Act” would ban airlines from forcibly removing passengers after they’ve already boarded the plane if it’s overbooked or airline employees are trying to fly as passengers.

“We were all shocked and outraged this week when United Airlines forcibly and brutally removed Dr. David Dao from Flight 3411,” Van Hollen wrote in a letter to his Senate colleagues. “We should act immediately to ensure that airlines cannot force passengers who have already boarded to leave the plane in order to free up seats for others. Instead, they must provide sufficient incentives to encourage passengers to voluntarily deplane.”

The senator pointed out that the Transportation Department has regulations that make clear that passengers must be compensated when they are involuntarily bumped prior to boarding a plane.

“It is outrageous that airlines can bodily remove passengers after boarding rather than providing appropriate incentives to encourage volunteers. Airlines should resolve these common overbooking issues prior to boarding,” he said.

The measure would seek to update a Transportation Department rule that prohibits airlines from removing passengers and caps incentives to get volunteers to change their flights before boarding. The rule currently says that for domestic travel, if airlines offer alternate transportation that arrives one to two hours after the original arrival time, the passenger is entitled to 200 percent of the fare, but no more than $675. If the carrier does not offer alternate transportation that arrives less than two hours before the original arrival time, the passenger is entitled to 400 percent of the fare, but no more than $1,350. There are similar rules for international flights.

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