That Time United Airlines Beat up an Asian Passenger

Overbooking is a practice most if not all airlines utilize in which they book or reserve more passengers than they have seats for on a flight. They do this with the expectation that some people will cancel or not show up at all.

The United Airlines flight that David Dao was on, however, was a special case beyond the normal irritants of an oversold flight. The flight was bound for Louisville, Kentucky, a destination a number of United crew members needed to reach to work for another flight. Flight 3411, David Dao’s flight, was sold out with every seat filled, so United asked for volunteers to take a later flight the next day.

Dao initially seemed open to volunteering and leaving on a flight later that day, but when he realized he would need to travel the following day he refused. With no volunteers coming forward, United took action by randomly selecting passengers and booting them off. Most passengers grudgingly complied, but when Dao’s name came up he was adamant on keeping the seat he had paid for.

“No, I am not going. I’m a physician, I have patients I need to see tomorrow.” — David Dao

United Airlines called upon several Chicago Dept. of Aviation officers to assist them in removing Dao from the flight. He continued to persist in his refusal to disembark and after verbal coaxing failed, officers began to physically drag Dao from his seat, causing a struggle in which Dao suffered a broken nose, a concussion and the loss of two front teeth.

After being dragged out in that condition and laid out on the tarmac — Dao ran back onto the plane and latched onto a pole in a galley area. He repeatedly stated, “I’m not getting off, just kill me. I want to go home.”

Dao immigrated from Vietnam in the 1970s and described the experience with United Airlines as more terrifying than retreating from his home country when Saigon, the capital fell and North Vietnamese communists took over the city. Fellow passengers recorded the incident on video and took photos of Dao’s bruised figure which were shared through various social media channels.

David Dao Being Dragged from UA Flight 3411 departing Chicago’s O’Hare airport on April 9. Business Insider.

The situation swiftly blew up and received a broad reaction of outrage and concern from the general public toward United Airlines’ overbooking policies and their treatment of passengers. Not only was United’s public perception as a leading airline significantly damaged, but it caused great suspicion and growing distrust toward other airlines and in large part, the entire industry.

Some airlines recognized the opportunity to market certain “assurances.” Such as Emirates Airlines recent commercial playing off of United Airlines’ slogan, “Fly the Friendly Skies, But this Time for Real.” Others are making improvements to their policies. Southwest Airlines,  for instance, is rumored to cease overbooking on its flights starting May 8th, following the United fiasco. Delta Airlines has also made the move of raising the payouts offered to customers for giving up seats from $2,000 to as much as $9,000.

The incident occurred on April 9th but has dragged out in part because of United’s initial response to public concerns. United’s CEO Oscar Munoz’s first statement concerning the occurrence suggested Dao was at fault for creating a disturbance and disobeying instruction from law enforcement. He quickly changed his stance when his comment stirred an even bigger PR scandal, stating, “a system failure” as the cause of Dao’s treatment. Shortly after, United revealed a new policy plan, forbidding the use of law enforcement when removing overbooked passengers.

“We breached public trust, and it’s a serious breach.” — Oscar Munoz, United Airlines CEO

An unexpected development that also factored into the longevity of this story, was some unfavorable aspects of David Dao’s character and background coming to light. After some deeper digging into Dao as a person rather than a helpless passenger, it was revealed that his physician’s license was revoked in 2005 in Kentucky, following the discovery of him committing drug crimes as well as giving out prescriptions in exchange for sexual favors. Dao has severe limitations on his license from the Kentucky state medical licensing board and can only practice in an outpatient facility once a week.

I can only imagine how ashamed and embarrassed Dao must feel after this intrusive and unrelated probe into his personal life by the media. From this point on he might face negative recognition and judgment from friends and family members to strangers with disregard to United’s ill treatment of him, one that closely resembles how you might punish a thief or criminal. Dao merely stood up for his right as a customer and passenger of United Airlines. He exposed himself by showing courage, now I can’t help wonder what the next person will think when they stand up to something they believe is wrong? Will they have their deepest and darkest secrets exposed to the world within a matter of hours as well?

As of yesterday April 27th, Dao has reached a settlement with United Airlines for an undisclosed amount. Dao’s lawyer complimented Munoz on “doing the right thing.” The matter is finally starting to resolve with Munoz’s public apologies and assurances notable policy changes that are intended to promote the main focus of United as an airline which “puts customers at the center of everything they do.”