EDITORIAL: This type of conduct will not fly
United Airlines’ treatment of passenger is unacceptable despite rules
If you have seen a swarm of headlines featuring United Airlines, then no, you are not experiencing déjà vu, this is just the second time in less than a month that the airline has been faced with extreme public controversy. With their earlier infraction consisting of the airline denying young girls from boarding a flight because of their choice to wear leggings, it was difficult for the general public to imagine the airline recovering. But rather than assessing the public outrage and ensuring that no other mishaps took place, United Airlines has managed to commit an even worse injustice against one of their passengers.
On Sunday night, a video featuring David Dao being dragged off a United Airlines flight at the O’Hare International Airport went viral. The video, recorded by another passenger, showed Dao being shoved from his seat until he falls to the floor, and was no longer moving as officers dragged him down the aisle — people around him shocked in disbelief. It was released that Dao refused to give up his seat after officials had randomly selected four passengers to exit the plane. The three other passengers complied, while Dao did not, resulting in the events that ensued in the video.
The headlines surrounding the video when it first came out were along the lines of “Man Dragged Off Overbooked Flight After Refusing to Give Up Seat.” Except this was not really the case.
The flight that Dao had paid for and already boarded was not overbooked but booked to its full capacity. Four people were removed from the flight because the airline wanted to make room for four crew members who needed to be in Louisville the next day. And the “random” passengers removed were not exactly random either. Instead, these passengers, including Dao, were chosen based off of data such as check-in time, fare type, connecting flight implications and frequent-flier status. These things are all explained in United’s Contract of Carriage.
But being dragged off of an airline by Chicago Department of Aviation officers was not part of this contract.
Almost as troubling as the acts committed against Dao is United’s response after the occurrence. The headline for their treatment of the situation should be “Too Little Too Late,” despite United's CEO Oscar Munoz stating that “It’s never too late to do the right thing.” But the problem is that it is a justification for his apology he just issued this Tuesday. Munoz had originally referred to Dao as becoming more “disruptive” and “belligerent” while being “apologetically” approached by airline officials.
Some of those who agreed with the airline’s treatment of Dao pointed out that in the past, Dao was convicted of trading drugs for sex and that the physical treatment he faced was the correct response. However, Dao had already undergone five years of probation after being convicted by court and even surrendered his medical license. He had served his time. But either way, this should not matter. The convictions were in his past and at that moment the only thing that mattered was that he was a paying passenger and that he did not want to leave the plane that he had already boarded.
What happened to Dao, although United may argue they are protected by their contract, is inexcusable. And whether others choose to boycott the airline because of this or Munoz chooses to not resign, United needs to do better.