This past Sunday, an overbooked flight sparked strong reactions after the violent manner it was dealt with. In a United Airlines flight, the airline told passenger, after they had boarded the aircraft, that they would need four seats on the full flight to be given up so they could be used by United employees. The airline allegedly explained the circumstances “several times” and offered compensation to those who volunteered, according to passengers, yet no one volunteered.
Consequently, the airline arbitrarily chose four names. However, the situation took a turn for the worst when one of the four selected passengers, Dr. David Dao, refused to give up his seat and officers were called to forcefully remove him from his seat and take him out of the aircraft. In the midst of the drama, Dao hit his head on an arm rest and considerable bleeding ensued. The Dao then ran back onto the plane after being dragged off the first time and the officers once again followed and removed him. Other passengers looked on in horror.
Since then, the security officers involved have been placed on temporary leave while their cases are reviewed, and United offered the passengers on the flight compensation in an effort to make up for the brutal situation. The Dao, victim of the violence, is currently in the hospital recovering from the injuries.
A total of three Chicago Department of Aviation officers have been placed on leave since the initial incident, which has quickly become a nightmare for United’s public image. Aside from its plummeting stocks and threats of boycotts, recently divulged footage further complicates United’s situation. The footage contradicts United CEO Oscar Munoz’s declaration that Dao’s aggressive behavior left the officers with no choice but to use physical force to remove him from the aircraft.
New Jersey Governor Chris Christie has responded to the situation by advocating for the termination of the common practice of overbooking. Christie’s particular interest in the case stems from the fact that, according to him, United controls roughly 70% of the flights at Newark Liberty International Airport.
In a statement given to CNN’s “New Day” this past Wednesday, Christie ardently declared, “To have somebody pay for a ticket, reserve a seat, be seated and then dragged off the plane physically by law enforcement officers at the direction of United—it’s outrageous. With United, the customer is always last.”
Munoz was a specific target of criticism after applauding the conduct of the employees in a memo, which he released soon after the incident took place. Meanwhile, he did not issue an apology to Dao until two days after the issue occurred. By Wednesday, Munoz displayed a change in attitude when addressing the event—employing a more remorseful tone.
“That is not who our family at United is. And you saw us at a bad moment,” Munoz apologetically told ABC’s “Good Morning America” on Wednesday.
The “bad moment” referred to by Munoz left Dao screaming as he was lugged off his flight. Fellow passengers were particularly struck by the blood that stripped from Dao’s mouth after he hit his head on an armrest.
Upon reflecting on the first time he saw the footage of the occurrence himself, Munoz reveals that, “It’s not so much what I thought, it’s what I felt. Probably the word ‘ashamed’ comes to mind.” Furthermore, Munoz promised that he would never allow a law enforcement agent remove “A booked, paid, seated passenger” from a plane again.
The United CEO also claimed to have unsuccessfully attempted to reach Dao to apologize to him directly, saying that Dao is not at fault—a contradiction of his initial position on the matter.
Munoz recently declared, “He was a paying passenger sitting on our seat in our aircraft, and no one should be treated like that. Period.”
According to reports given by 2 passengers on that same flight to CNN, United is reimbursing the passengers on the flight. A United spokesperson reaffirmed this in an email to WBBM stating, “All customers on flight 3411 from Sunday, April 9 are receiving compensation for the of their tickets.”
Fellow passenger Jayse Anspach spoke on the event, stating that Dao and his wife had initially agreed to get off the aircraft. However, upon discovering the next flight to Louisville would not be until Monday afternoon, Dao sat back and said that he would be unable to give up his seat as he was a physician and he needed to get to work the next day.
The situation quickly took a turn as the officers became altered in attempting to coerce Dao into leaving, but he consistently declared that he could not leave because he had to be in Louisville on Monday for work-related reasons.
Anspach revealed that Dao “was very empathetic: ‘I can’t be late. I’m a doctor. I’ve got to be there tomorrow.’”
In a video recorded by Joya and Forest Cummings, seated behind Dao on the flight, the drama can be seen ensuing after Dao refused to leave the plane following the request of an airline supervisor for him to do so.
The Cummings testified that Dao was not at all belligerent when addressing the airline officials, and that he only began to get mildly upset upon the arrival of the second officer to the aircraft after he continually refused to leave. The Cummings both affirm that Dao did not at any moment raise his voice when speaking to the officers and the airline officials.
Soon after, the physical brutality took place as the officers dragged the bleeding Dao down the aisle of the plane.
According to the victim’s lawyer, Dao is currently recovering in a Chicago hospital, and he is set to give a press conference on Thursday.
Dao told CNN affiliate WLKY, upon being asked what his injuries were, that they were “everything.”
In a statement given by his lawyer, Stephan L. Golan, it was emphasized that, “The family of Dr. Dao wants the world to know that they are very appreciative of the outpouring of prayers, concern and support they have received.”
The case drew strong reactions from United customers nationwide, with some even physically cutting up their mileage cards to emphasize their plans to not fly with the airline anymore after this issue.
Additionally, United has seen the impact of this incident on the stock market. United shares decreased by 4% Tuesday and their market valued has plummeted by $1 billion since the initial event.
According to the US Department of Transportation, though, anyone can be expulsed from an overbooked flight and this happened to 46,000 against their will in 2015 alone.
The Department also emphasized that overbooking is legal, and it is usually done in anticipation of no-shows. If there are no volunteers to get off the flight, the airline can select passengers for removal according to certain criteria like check-in time or price of a ticket, as outline in the Department of Transport’s Fly-Rights.
Interestingly enough, this policy is something each passenger agrees to upon booking their tickets; however, it is clearly often overlooked by passengers in the process.
Regardless, Chrystie continues to be an ardent advocate for the termination of the practice. In a letter addressed to the US Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, Chrystie emphasized that, “Passengers who have paid the fare for their ticket and reserved a seat should not be subject to this arbitrary ‘bumping’ except in the most extreme of circumstances and certainly not to accommodate employees of United Airlines.”
Seated Image via Wikimedia