United Airlines apologizes for passenger removal ‘situation’

Updated April 12, 2017 - 5:14 am

Video footage of a passenger being forcibly removed from a United Airlines plane after the flight was overbooked has sparked outrage across social media, drawn criticism from Hollywood and called into question the airline’s policies for handling passenger removal.

What happened before the video

After the airline realized the flight out of Chicago’s O’Hare International, bound for Louisville, Kentucky, had been overbooked, United asked for volunteers to leave the plane in order to seat four of its crew members, The Associated Press reported. They were offered $800 vouchers to give up their seats. When no volunteers came forward, officials said people would be chosen at random.

When the man refused, security officials detained and removed him. Cell phone footage of the incident surfaced, showing a bloodied and confused passenger screaming while being dragged away.

United responds

Following the incident, the head of United’s parent company said the airline was reaching out to the man to “resolve this situation.”

Hours earlier on Monday, he described the man as “disruptive and belligerent.”

By Tuesday afternoon, almost two days after the Sunday evening confrontation, CEO Oscar Munoz issued an apology as more details emerged.

“No one should ever be mistreated this way,” said Oscar Munoz, chief executive of United’s parent company.

The passenger was identified as physician David Dao, 69, of Elizabethtown, Kentucky, who was convicted more than a decade ago of felony charges involving his prescribing of drugs and spent years trying to regain his medical license.

But while Dao’s history quickly became a focus of attention, there’s no indication that his past influenced how he was treated or that the airline or police were aware of his background.

Screaming can be heard on the videos, but nowhere is Dao seen attacking the officers. Later in the footage, Dao can be heard quietly saying, “I want to go home, I want to go home.”

Munoz latest statement described the removal as “truly horrific.” He planned to review policies for seeking volunteers to give up their seats, for handling oversold situations and for partnering with airport authorities and local law enforcement.

The company expected to share results of the review by April 30.

Hospitalized

An attorney who represents Dao said his client was being treated at a Chicago hospital for injuries he sustained in the incident.

Dao’s family is focused only on his medical care and “wants the world to know that they are very appreciative of the outpouring of prayers, concern and support they have received,” attorney Stephen L. Golan said.

According to records from the Kentucky Board of Medical Licensure, Dao went to medical school at the University of Medicine of Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam, graduating in 1974. He was licensed in Kentucky with a specialty in pulmonary disease.

Legal problems

His legal troubles started in 2003, when his medical license was suspended after an undercover sting operation at a Louisville motel for allegedly writing fraudulent prescriptions.

According to the documents, the licensing board had learned that Dao had become sexually interested in a patient and hired the patient as his office manager. That man later said he quit his job because Dao “pursued him aggressively” and arranged to provide him with prescription drugs in exchange for sex.

Dao was ultimately convicted in late 2004 of several counts of obtaining drugs by fraud or deceit and was placed on five years of supervised probation and surrendered his medical license.

His longtime effort to get his license back finally succeeded in 2015, when the licensing board allowed him to practice medicine again.

Supporting Dao

No passengers on the plane have mentioned that Dao did anything but refuse to leave the plane when he was ordered to do so.

Also Tuesday, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel called the altercation “completely unacceptable” and praised Aviation Commissioner Ginger Evans for taking “swift action.” He promised that a city investigation would “ensure nothing like this ever happens again.”

An overbooked flight and an altercation

The event stemmed from a common air travel issue — a full flight. United was trying to make room for four employees of a partner airline, meaning four people had to get off.

Three Aviation Department police officers got on the plane. Two officers tried to reason with Dao before a third came aboard and pointed at the man “basically saying, ‘Sir, you have to get off the plane,’” said Tyler Bridges, a passenger whose wife, Audra D. Bridges, posted a video on Facebook.

One of the officers could be seen grabbing the screaming man from his window seat, across the armrest and dragging him down the aisle by his arms.

Other passengers on Flight 3411 are heard saying, “Please, my God,” ”What are you doing?” ”This is wrong,” ”Look at what you did to him” and “Busted his lip.”

“We almost felt like we were being taken hostage,” Bridges said. “We were stuck there. You can’t do anything as a traveler. You’re relying on the airline.”

Trump administration reacts

A spokesman for President Donald Trump says the video was “troubling.”

But White House press secretary Sean Spicer says it’s unlikely the federal government will launch a separate investigation.

Spicer says he’s sure Trump has seen the video but that any comment from the president could influence a potential outcome of the investigations.

Spicer adds that he thinks everyone who has seen the video can agree that the situation could have been handled better.

International outrage

United Continental Holdings Inc. shares fell as much as 4.4 percent on Tuesday after a worldwide backlash erupted over the plane incident.

 

On Chinese social media, the incident showing David A. Dao’s limp body pulled from the cabin of Flight 3411 has attracted the attention of more than 340 million users on the Weibo platform by Tuesday morning.

United Continental got about 14 percent of its 2016 revenue from flying Pacific routes.

Reviewjournal.com contributed to this report.

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