United episode shows airline passengers need a new 'Bill of Rights'

Screen grab of a video by Twitter user @JayseDavid showing Dr. David Dao being forcibly removed from an overbooked United Airlines flight.

Remember the so-called Airline Passenger Bill of Rights that the Obama-era Department of Transportation put into effect seven years ago? Unfortunately, those rules didn't include a prohibition against dragging a passenger down the aisle if he refuses to be bumped from an overbooked flight.

The abuse was documented Sunday by two passengers on a United flight from Chicago to Louisville who captured it on their cellphones. The bleeding, screaming victim was identified as David Dao, 69, a once-suspended physician and professional poker player. He was pulled from his seat by a security officer after refusing to be bumped so a United employee could fly to his next assignment.

The whole sorry episode again raises the question of why airlines can overbook. Built into their profit-margin calculus is an expectation that some passengers won't show up. When they do, the airline offers them cash to give up their seats. Apparently, when that doesn't work physical force is allowable.

United apologized profusely for the incident, calling it "an upsetting event." An apology isn't enough. Domestic air travel these days too often resembles what passengers endure on a crowded bus with tight seats and stale air. The only difference is you're up in the air and paying a whole lot more for the experience. The "Bill of Rights" needs amending.