United Airlines under fire for dragging passenger off

United Airlines has sparked outrage for the treatment of a passenger who was physically dragged off a plane the airline had overbooked, with one of the security officers involved in the incident placed on leave pending an investigation.PHOTO: REUTERS
In a letter circulated to employees, United Airlines chief executive Oscar Munoz said airline employees had followed established procedures. Smartphone video posted online shows three Chicago Department of Aviation police officers struggling with a s
In a letter circulated to employees, United Airlines chief executive Oscar Munoz said airline employees had followed established procedures. PHOTOS: TYLER BRIDGES/TWITTER
In a letter circulated to employees, United Airlines chief executive Oscar Munoz said airline employees had followed established procedures. Smartphone video posted online shows three Chicago Department of Aviation police officers struggling with a s
Smartphone video posted online shows three Chicago Department of Aviation police officers struggling with a seated man. The passenger, who has been identified as Dr David Dao, a Vietnamese-American doctor, screams as he is dragged off.PHOTOS: TYLER BRIDGES/TWITTER

Victim identified as Vietnamese American with checkered past; airline CEO calls doc belligerent

NEW YORK • A passenger forcibly removed from an overbooked United Airlines flight has been identified as Vietnamese-American doctor David Dao, 69, who specialises in internal medicine.

His wife and four of their five children are also doctors, according to the Daily Mail yesterday. It said Dr Dao and his wife were practising in Elizabethtown, about 64km from Louisville, Kentucky.

The social media storm prompted by footage of security officers dragging Dr Dao out of his seat continued to spread yesterday, after the carrier's chief executive Oscar Munoz issued a brief statement apologising only for having to "re-accommodate these customers".

Mr Munoz incurred even more ire when, in a leaked e-mail to employees, he reportedly called Dr Dao "disruptive and belligerent", and said employees "followed established procedures for dealing with situations like this".

Yesterday, United's shares fell nearly 4 per cent after the backlash, which extended even to China, according to Agence France-Presse news agency.


Smartphone video posted online shows three Chicago Department of Aviation police officers struggling with a seated man. The passenger, who has been identified as Dr David Dao, a Vietnamese-American doctor, screams as he is dragged off. PHOTOS: TYLER BRIDGES/TWITTER

 

The incident occurred on Sunday on a United Express flight from Chicago to Louisville, Kentucky. The airline said it had asked for volunteers to give up their seats, and police were called in after one passenger refused to leave the plane.

Smartphone video posted online showed three Chicago Department of Aviation police officers struggling with Dr Dao.

He starts to scream as he is dragged off while other passengers look on - some recording the event with their phones.

The showdown quickly ignited social media outrage, with "United" a trending term on Twitter, Facebook and Google.

The footage was reposted on China's Twitter-like Sina Weibo, where the incident quickly became the top trending topic, garnering more than 120 million views and 80,000 comments.

"Shameless! We won't forgive them. Ethnic Chinese around the world please boycott United Airlines!" wrote one commentator.

Dr Dao had earlier been thought to be Chinese.

United claims to be the biggest carrier to China, with more non-stop US-China flights to more Chinese cities than any other airline, according to its website.

In a statement late on Monday, the Chicago Department of Aviation said the incident was "not in accordance with our standard operating procedure and the actions of the aviation security officers are obviously not condoned by the department".

"That officer has been placed on leave effective today pending a thorough review of the situation," it said, referring to one of the officers.

The US Department of Transportation (DOT) said it was reviewing whether United Airlines complied with rules on overbooking that require airlines to set guidelines on how passengers are denied boarding if they do not volunteer to give up their seats.

 

"While it is legal for airlines to involuntarily bump passengers from an oversold flight when there are not enough volunteers, it is the airline's responsibility to determine its own fair boarding priorities," Reuters reported a DOT spokesman as saying in a statement.

Airlines are required by law to provide bumped passengers a written statement explaining their compensation rights.

The fiasco was another example of bad press and negative social media coverage for United after an incident last month in which two teenagers were prevented from boarding a flight in Denver because they were wearing leggings.

The airline said the girls were flying on passes that required them to abide by a dress code in return for free or discounted travel.

The latest DOT figures show that 46,000 passengers were involuntarily bumped from flights in 2015. Most carriers overbook their flights, expecting that some passengers will not show up.

More details of Dr Dao emerged yesterday, with the local Courier-Journal newspaper in Louisville reporting that the grandfather, who went to medical school in Vietnam in the 1970s before moving to the United States, was working as a pulmonologist in Elizabethtown when he was involved in illegally prescribing and trafficking painkillers. He apparently also wrote prescriptions in exchange for sex with a patient.

He was convicted of multiple felony counts of obtaining drugs by fraud or deceit in November 2004. He was placed on five years of supervised probation in January 2005. He surrendered his medical licence the next month.

The Kentucky Board of Medical Licensure permitted him to resume practising medicine in 2015 under certain conditions.

During his suspension, Dr Dao apparently took part in the World Series of Poker in 2009, coming in second and walking away with US$117,000 in winnings.

Soon after the Courier-Journal's report, people took to social media to criticise the paper for "victim-shaming" Dr Dao.

"The history & background of David Dao isn't relevant & doesn't give anyone the right to assault him!" tweeted Ms Claire Eubank, who says she works for Emirates Airlines.

Yesterday, Louisville news channel WLKY News said it spoke to Dr Dao, who was recovering in a Chicago hospital. When asked what his injuries were, he said "everything" and that he was not doing well, reported the station.

VIDEO

Security officer forcefully drags passenger off plane. http://str.sg/4Xsv

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 12, 2017, with the headline 'United Airlines under fire for dragging passenger off'. Print Edition | Subscribe