After 32-year-old Lily Jamison refused to give up her seat on a flight earlier this week, a United Airlines attendant drove onto the plane and hit the overbooked passenger with a car.
“It was really traumatic,” says passenger Marcia Miller, who witnessed the event. “It just didn’t seem warranted to drive a car onto a plane and hit a passenger with it.”
All the seats had been filled on the Baton Rouge-bound flight when three passengers were told they needed to give up their seat for a crew member. Two complied but Jamison refused, saying she had rights to her seat as a paying customer. An airline attendant then drove a car onto the plane and ran her over, thereby forcing her to give up her seat.
“Things happened so fast,” says Miller, “One minute we were being offered flight vouchers, the next one of the attendants just said, ‘Alright, you made us do this,’ then drove onto the plane and struck her with a car while we watched.”
United has reiterated it is fully within their right to attempt vehicular manslaughter against their customers should they refuse to de-board. United considers a number of factors before determining which passenger will leave the flight, such as connecting flights and whether they seem physically fit enough to withstand being run over by a car.
Several passengers recorded the incident and posted videos online showing an attendant chasing Jamison down the aisle in a car while people shout in protest. The car struck Jamison, who flew several feet into the air before hitting the ceiling and falling back to the ground. The attendant then ran her over, then backed up and ran over her again while reassuring passengers, “It’s okay, we’re an airline, we’re totally allowed to do this.”
“We were all screaming, “Stop!” says Cassie Bjorge, another passenger. “But the attendant wouldn’t stop driving around and continued insisting he could do whatever he wanted since he knew we’d still fly United as long as we got a cheap flight.”
She added: “He wasn’t wrong, but he definitely shouldn’t have struck that second passenger just for fun.”
At first the United Airlines CEO tried to defend the attendant in question, saying, “Well, the passenger raised her voice and refused to comply, so we had no choice but to try hitting her with a car.”
However, after watching video footage of the incident, he agreed the policy did look “pretty bad in practice” and issued a formal apology. The company will now no longer ask attendants to run over passengers with a car, unless it’s a matter of safety and security.
Jamison, who remains in the hospital, says she will file a lawsuit at some point.
“United and other airlines have bullied paying customers long enough,” she says. “But hitting me with a car has crossed a line. I and other customers deserve respect, dignity and not to be flattened by a vehicle driving at 30 miles per hour down an airplane aisle.”