United Against United Airlines: How the Airline Superpower Marked Itself for Death (With Updates)

United Airlines is in a world of hurt, and rightfully so.

Cell-phone footage released on April 10, 2017 went viral when it revealed United Airlines employees assaulting an elderly doctor of Vietnamese/Chinese descent, then literally dragging him out of the plane he was on. The situation began on April 9, 2017 during the Chicago-Louisville Express Flight 3411 when several United Airlines law enforcement employees attempted to board the plane. Every passenger who bought a ticket was in attendance and therefore the flight was categorically overbooked. The United Airlines employees requested that someone disembark the plane but no on volunteered. That was when the United Airlines employees forcibly removed four passengers from the plane. One of whom was Dr. David Dao, a 69 year old doctor. The viral cell phone footage captures the United Airlines employees striking Dao several times, knocking him to the floor of the cabin, and then dragging his bleeding body off of the plane.

United Airlines Beating
These still images from cellphone footage taken aboard United Flight 3411 capture Dr. David Dao’s beaten body being dragged off the plane on April 9, 2017.

The footage outraged people all over the world for the inhumane and unjustified behavior inflicted on Dr. Dao. The situation also called into question the legality of allowing airlines to force paying passengers to deplane just to make room on flights for their employees. According to CNN Business, airlines typically bank on a certain number of passengers missing every flight which usually allows some of their employees to board these flights with no issue. But in the rare (but not unheard of) case of United Flight 3411, all of the passengers were in attendance. In response to the April 9 incident, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie requested that Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao suspend all federal regulations that allow airlines to overbook flights and remove their passengers.

Another key takeaway from the United Airlines atrocity was the possibility of racial discrimination when it came to the selection of Dr. David Dao for removal. Many passengers on the Chicago-Louisville flight claimed that the United Airlines employees might have found it easier to justify removing Dr. Dao because of his limited English. This in turn could establish the argument that neither party was fully aware of what the other was saying during the passenger removal. In addition, Dao’s unfair treatment did not end with his semi-conscious and bleeding body being dragged off the plane. Several major news media outlets published untrue information about Dao in an attempt to build a profile of the victim. Many news outlets inadvertently published information about other men who shared Dao’s surname but were not him. There were conflicting reports that Dao illegally harvested organs during the early stages of his medical career and that he was a convict on the run. These stories were libelous and motivated the Dao family to take legal action against United Airlines all the more.

Several civil rights groups demanded that people boycott United Airlines for their unjust treatment of Dao. Within just one week of the beating, United Airlines’ stock shares were down 4.4%, ultimately costing the airline $225,000,000.

United Airline’s management was unsuccessful in restoring the company’s image. United CEO Oscar Munoz apologized to the Dao family for the incident but chose to put the four on-flight law enforcement employees who beat Dao on leave rather than to fire them.

“We’re going to teach and broaden sort of the cultural impact of respect and dignity, regardless of where you’re sitting,” stated Munoz during an interview with Lester Holt of NBC. “And that’s why we’ve said–once you board an aircraft, we’re not going to take you off, except for safety and security.”

Dr. David Dao’s attorney sued United Airlines for Dao’s injuries which included a broken nose, a concussion, two front teeth getting knocked out, and damage to his sinuses requiring surgery. United Airlines and the Dao family reached a settlement for an undisclosed amount on Thursday April 27, 2017.

United Airlines CEO Oscar Munoz will testify on the Flight 3411 incident to the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee on Capitol Hill on Tuesday, May 2, 2017.

United Airlines Boycott
Boycotts against United Airlines in response to the beating of Dr. David Dao have cost the airline over $225 million.