Dr. David Dao, a 69-year-old father of five, grandfather and Kentucky physician, was forcibly dragged of a plane at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport after he refused to give up his seat to an airline crew member while he was returning from a California vacation with this wife. Dao came to the United States after fleeing Vietnam by boarding a boat in 1975 when Saigon fell. He describes the experience as “more horrifying and harrowing than what he experienced in leaving Vietnam,” according to his attorney, Thomas Demetrio. Demetrio is hoping the incident can be used as an example of the long brushed under the rug mistreatment of passengers, and that his client will be a “poster child” for this mistreatment. “I hope he becomes a poster child for all of us,” he said. “Someone’s got to. It took something like this to get a conversation going.” Dao was dragged down the aisle on his back, face bloody, but Demetrio was unable to say exactly how his client was injured.
Demetrio said Dao’s case will act as an extreme example of what could happen as a result of airlines overbooking their flights and scrambling to figure out how they can bump passengers who have already paid for their seats. United had selected Dao and three other passengers at random for removal from the plane. The three others eventually accepted the terms offered to them and voluntarily left the plane, but Dao refused to after being offered $800 in vouchers and a hotel stay for the inconvenience. Federal laws allows airlines to forcibly remove passengers if necessary, but crew members need to maintain their schedules. Current policies do not leave much room for bumped passengers to argue their fate.
Dao will be suing United and the city of Chicago. Aviation Commissioner Ginger Evans said the officers had the authority to board the flight but that what happened on the plane is being investigated. Meanwhile, the three officers who removed Dao have been suspended from their jobs at the Chicago Aviation Department. Demetrio is also focusing the case on a corporate culture across airlines in which he says passengers have routinely been bullied.
United CEO Oscar Munoz stated, “No one should ever be mistreated this way” and he promised the company was doing everything it can to ensure nobody is forcibly removed in this manner again. He says the airline will no longer employ the help of the police to remove bumped passengers and all passengers on Dao’s flight will receive a refund. However, Demetrio claims neither himself nor Dao’s family have heard from United directly.
“Dao is currently staying in a “secure location” in order to avoid being hounded by the media. The video that captured his removal has been widely circulated and the story has been making headlines worldwide. His family is horrified by the whole ordeal. They’re shocked that the officers would have taken the matter to the extent they did. Dao “has no interest in ever seeing an airplane” and will probably be driven to Kentucky, according to Demetrio.