A week before a man being dragged from his seat on a United Airlines flight sparked an international uproar, another United flyer was threatened with the use of force for refusing to give up his seat, he claims.
Businessman Geoff Fearms was sitting in a first class seat, ready to fly home from Hawaii to Los Angeles International Airport on April 1, when he says he was told to get off the plane to make room for a higher-priority passenger from a different flight because of a sudden change in aircraft.
"If you are not willing to voluntarily de-plane, then we will call security and have you physically escorted off the plane," Fearns recalled being told.
The Irvine resident was eventually able to take an open middle seat in coach on the six-hour flight, he said, but he lost working time and respect for the airline.
"At that point, it was either, comply or we'll summon security and physically evict you," Fearns said.
Fearns was put between a married couple who had refused to sit next to each other and "argued the whole way back," he told The Los Angeles Times.
Fearns was only able to get a refund for the difference between his first-class ticket and economy ticket, along with a credit for a future trip, a week later, after emailing with a service representative, according to the Times, which first reported the story.
United didn't return requests for comment from NBC Los Angeles or the Times.
Fearns' experience comes to light as United deals with the fallout of the physical removal of Kentucky doctor David Dao, who was bloodied as airport security hauled him from a flight in Chicago Sunday, to make room for employees from a partner airline, over the objections of fellow passengers. Disturbing video of the incident went viral, generating an uproar that hit United's stock price Tuesday.
United CEO Oscar Munoz said later that day that the airline is conducting a full review of its boarding procedures.
"No one should ever be mistreated this way," he said in a statement, apologizing to Dao.
Munoz has drawn criticism across social media after his first responses fell short of a specific apology to Dao for his experience. In a letter to employees he described the passenger as "disruptive and belligerent."
But Munoz said in an interview on ABC's "Good Morning America" Wednesday that he felt "shame" over the video of Dao's removal and "my initial words fell short of truly expressing the shame."
"This will never happen again," he said.
Fearns says he's consulted his attorney over how he was treated — "like in a cattle car" — and his wife joked about how his trip could have turned into a scene like the one in the viral video.
Both cases have highlighted how travelers are largely at the mercy of airlines when flights get overbooked.
"If it happened to me in first class, it can happen to anyone," Fearns said.