Thursday, April 13, 2017

Ousted United Airlines passenger recovering from injuries; lawsuit probable

David Dao's daughter, Crystal Dao Pepper, represented the family at a press conference today

DAVID DAO, at some point in his recovery, will speak to the media in person about the incident on United Flight 3411 and his violent eviction from the plane.

According to his lawyer, the Kentucky physician suffered a concussion, a broken nose, the loss of two of his teeth and will require reconstructive surgery because his face was slammed into an armrest while being forcibly removed from his seat his seat and dragged down the airplane aisle while unconscious and bleeding from his mouth.

Dao is recovering from his injuries in an unspecified location, according to his high-powered personal injury attorney, Thomas Demetrio in a press conference today (April 12). Dao doesn't remember returning to the airplane and acting dazed and confused.

Demetrio, said his 69-year-old client's experience -- an immigrant from Vietnam (correcting earlier reports that he was Chinese  -- was "more harrowing" than fleeing Vietnam in 1975. 

This is a story that has taken a life of its own and blown into a full-blown national discussion about the treatment of customers, in general, and passengers' rights specifically.

"For a long time airlines, United in particular, have bullied us," Demetrio told a news conference Thursday (April 12) in Chicago, outlining the potential causes of action they may pursue against United and the city of Chicago.

"Will there be a lawsuit? Yeah, probably."

Demetrio -- the former president of the Chicago Bar Ass'n -- filed legal documents Wednesday, asking a judge to order United to retain all videos, cockpit voice recordings, passenger and crew lists, incident reports, police documents related to the incident, and personnel files for the officers involved in removing Dao.

Securing the documents is a prelude to a lawsuit, and it's virtually certain the two law firms Dao hired were retained to go after United and the city, which operates the Chicago Dept. of Aviation, which oversees airport security.

Dao's daughter, Crystal Dao Pepper, said, "We were horrified and shocked and sickened to learn what had happened to him and see what had happened to him. We hope that in the future nothing like this happens again.”

David Dao
She said her parents were returning from a vacation in California and catching the Sunday flight to Louisville, Kentucky, when United tried to bump four passengers from the sold-out flight to accommodate four United employees. Even when compensation had been upped to $800 there were no takers. That's when United employees selected four passengers at random, that included Dao.

Dao told the attendants that he was a physician and needed to return home to meet with patients. That was when attendants called airport security. When he still refused to give up his seat, the guards tried to forcibly remove him. Dao shouted out that he was being singled out because he was Chinese, according to other passengers.

A passenger seated behind the Dao's said Dao was calm until the guards forcibly tried to remove him. Throughout the encounter, Joy Cummings said, Dao was upset but not belligerent or violent. Once officers were called on board, she added, Dao was "calm and soft-spoken" and didn't act violently with officers.

"Other than not getting out of the seat, he didn't fight back. He just stood his ground," Cummings said.

Passengers' cellphone videos of the incident were posted on their social media sites and the incident went viral internationally with Asian and Asian/American social networkers calling for a boycott of the airline.


Immediately after the incident, United CEO Oscar Munoz issued a half-assed apology for the overbooking but expressed no sympathy to Dao. On Monday, he also issued an internal memo to employees that Dao was belligerent and that employees followed procedures.

When the memo and apology went public, the outrage grew even louder. United was taking a beating in the virtual public square. Daytime talk shows condemned United's actions and nightime TV hosts made fun of the airline. Celebrities and politicians expressed their dismay and vowed to never fly United again.

Munoz was forced to issue another apology that was softer in tone and expressed more compassion to Dao. He  appeared on Good Morning, America Wednesday to again issue a "sincere" apology and to express "shame" over the altercation.

"This will never happen again," Munoz said in his Good Morning America exclusive interview."We are not going to put a law enforcement official onto a plane to take them off … to remove a booked, paid, seated passenger. We can't do that."

After today's press conference, United issued another statement, which reads:

The altercation even drew the attention of Donald Trump. He suggested that the airline should have raised the incentive. "You know, there's a point at which I'm getting off the plane ... seriously," said Trump. "They should have gone up higher. But to just randomly say, 'You're getting off the plane,' that was terrible."


Amid the current political climate in the U.S., where racial profiling by law enforcement persists and immigrants and people of color face increasing bigotry, it is extremely troubling that an elderly Asian/American man was the victim of excessive force that left him bloodied and disoriented, said a statement from Asian Americans Advancing Justice. 

“Advancing Justice is demanding a full and transparent investigation of the incident, a full examination of airline policies of allowing the overbooking of flights and expecting passengers to bear the brunt of this corporate practice, and greater accountability from the Chicago Department of Aviation security officers and United Airlines regarding the use of racial profiling and excessive force,” AAAJ stated.
RELATED: Asian passenger forcibly removed from United flight
Illinois' two U.S. Senators, Senators Tammy Duckworth and Dick Durbin, wrote a letter late Tuesday to United and CEO Munoz demanding an explanation of United's operating procedure for deciding forcible removals, how often over the last year the airline has deplaned a passenger already onboard, and why the full $1,350 incentive wasn't offered to Dao, among numerous other questions.

“Consumer trust and confidence are critical to ensure this industry continues to thrive, and we hope United Airlines will work diligently to immediately address this incident and make necessary improvements to ensure it does not occur again,” the Senators wrote.

On Wednesday, Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus (CAPAC) Chair Rep. Judy Chu, D-Calif., also sent a letter to United Airlines CEO Munoz, raising concerns over the violent removal of an Asian/American passenger. Chu also sent a letter to Department of Transportation (DOT) Secretary Elaine Chao requesting that she disclose any findings of DOT’s review of this incident.

“I am deeply disturbed by the footage of a ticketed United Airlines passenger being forcibly removed from his flight. U.S. airlines should ensure the safety of their passengers. In this instance, the mistreatment of an Asian American passenger in order to accommodate United’s employees resulted in serious physical injury and an appalling abuse of rights," said Chu.

“I sent a letter to United Airlines and the U.S. Department Transportation asking for complete clarity behind this matter, including answers as to why violent force was necessary to remove this passenger, and whether any Federal laws or regulations were violated during this horrific incident. I look forward to a prompt response to these letters. No passenger should feel unsafe while flying.”

To the Dao family, however, the question is even more basic: It's a question of common  decency.

“We want fairness in how people treat us, we want respect, and we want dignity. That’s it. Not a big deal," said Demetrio during today's press conference. "This seems so simple. Forget the law for a minute that requires common decency in the treatment of passengers, but just treat us with respect. Make us feel like you really care.”

(Updated April 15 to include comments from Donald Trump.)