ST. LOUIS, Mo. – Passengers aboard a United Airlines flight bound for St. Louis watched in subdued horror on Friday as flight attendants gave Bernard Nadler, an eighty-three year-old Korean War veteran, brief instructions on parachute operation before forcibly ejecting him from the aircraft after he refused to give up his first class seat to accommodate a “higher-priority” traveler.
The debacle began around 8:45 a.m. EST – less than thirty minutes after United Airlines Flight 3114 departed from Southwest Florida International Airport – when a United employee riding in a jump seat located inside the flight deck advised the crew that he needed more leg room. “When no volunteers immediately came forward, crew members chose to select a passenger at random for re-accommodation,” a spokesperson for the airline said on Friday, adding that the elderly Nadler had likely received parachute training while serving in the armed forces.
Once the aircraft reached a cruising altitude of 41,000 feet, flight attendants told passengers to prepare for a loss of cabin pressure, saying the pilot would need to temporarily depressurize the aircraft in order to allow the outer door to be opened. “They told us to put on our oxygen masks if we started feeling woozy,” fellow passenger Boone Carlyle, CEO of Carlyle Weddings, told the Associated Press. Mr. Carlyle, who sat three rows behind Nadler, said passengers were given an extra bag of complimentary pretzels for the inconvenience.
Speaking to reporters during a press conference Friday afternoon, United Airlines spokesperson Georgia Cavanagh said Mr. Nadler will receive a voucher as compensation for having been “re-accommodated” mid-flight. “The cost of the parachute will, of course, be deducted from the voucher’s overall value,” Ms. Cavanagh said. In response to a question from the Los Angeles Times as to why Mr. Nadler wasn’t simply relocated to the flight deck’s jump seat, Ms. Cavanagh said access to the flight deck is highly restricted. “For security reasons, FAA regulations prohibit unauthorized individuals from accessing the cockpit during flight,” she explained.
As of Friday afternoon, search and rescue operations were underway in southern Georgia’s Okefenokee Swamp where FAA officials believe Mr. Nadler may have landed following his untimely ejection from United Airlines Flight 3114. “We’re combing through about 438,000 acres of swampland, so we anticipate this being a multi-day operation,” an FAA official told Real News Right Now. The official expressed confidence in Mr. Nadler’s ability to survive the harsh conditions given his “experience as an infantryman” in the Korean War.
Friday’s incident is the latest in a series of public relations disasters that have plagued United Airlines in recent weeks. Last Sunday, a Kentucky doctor was beaten and dragged off an overbooked United flight after he refused to give up his seat. The man, who suffered a broken nose and lost several teeth, could require reconstructive surgery, his attorney said on Thursday.