A United Airlines passenger was dragged up the center aisle of the airplane, limp, as if unconscious, with blood all over his face. What was his offense? He refused to give up his bought-and-paid-for seat on an overbooked United flight from Chicago to Louisville, Ky.
It wasn’t like the nearly-70-year-old man was some kind of rabble-rouser. He was apparently sitting quietly in his seat while waiting for take-off when a crew member announced over the loudspeaker that United crew members from another flight needed four seats on the plane. That meant the crew needed to somehow remove four people from their bought-and-paid-for seats. They even offered passengers a substantial amount of money for their inconvenience.
When there were no takers, the crew members “randomly” picked four passengers. United said that the choice was made using a special mathematical algorithm. The other three passengers begrudgingly de-boarded the plane, but not Dr. David Dao.
When crew members notified Dr. Dao that he needed to get off the plane, he refused. He told them he had appointments with patients the next day. When it became clear Dao wasn’t budging, Chicago airport security was called. They approached Dr. Dao and told him again that he needed to de-board. He continued to say no.
In response, one of the security men reached over to where Dr. Dao was sitting in the window seat and began to physically pull him from his seat. Dr. Dao began to fight back, but they managed to pull him into the aisle, where the Doctor was literally dragged off the plane.
As horrible as this story sounds, it looked even worse on the multiple videos that were taken from the smartphones of passengers. In the videos, you can see Dr. Dao laying on his back on the floor. He looked unconscious, completely limp. There was blood all over his face. The videos show a man dragging Dr. Dao out on his back while passengers shouted at the man to stop. Eventually, security got the doctor off the plane.
The internet has been abuzz with the story, particularly because there is a video recording of it. Like many offenses in recent years, the public wouldn’t have been in such an uproar with the video footage. It isn’t just this one man’s experience that was brough to light either, but United’s policies as well. As it turns out, airlines have the right to remove passengers for more reasons than overbooking.
The final, unbelievable part of the story is what United Airlines had to say about the whole thing. In a statement on Monday, United CEO Oscar Munoz described Dr. Dao as “disruptive and belligerent.” Munoz went on to say that the event was upsetting to everyone at United. He also apologized for the inconvenience to passengers, but made no mention of Dao or his injuries.
United seems to have a unique view of “disruptive” and “belligerent.” It isn’t just the people in the U.S. who are upset by these actions and less likely to book flights on United, but citizens of China as well, since they assumed Dr. Dao to be Chinese. Dr. Dao is in a hospital in Chicago, recovering from his injuries. United will likely take more time to recover, as potential customers ponder the question of racial motivation and customer service in general.