It only takes one act of deliberate cruelty to make the public lose trust in a well-known brand forever. This week, United Airlines has proven this beyond all doubt. The backlash from the corporation’s handling of the overbooking on flight 3411 has been astonishingly fierce. Yet no one can deny that it seems well-deserved.
For the benefit of those of you who are out of the loop, the trouble began on the evening of Sunday 9 April, when passengers flying from O’Hare International Airport in Chicago to Louisville, Kentucky, were informed that their flight had been overbooked. Although the passengers had already boarded and were seated, the airline felt required to remove four paying customers and reschedule their flight for the next day in order to make room for their own staff members who had been diverted to Louisville.
The airline initially offered passengers, $400, and then $800 and a hotel room for the night, in order to voluntarily leave the flight. When none of the passengers complied, a manager boarded and randomly selected four passengers to leave. But when one elderly doctor refused to leave, he was violently dragged from his seat. The video of the man’s humiliating experience at the hands of the airline was subsequently uploaded to Twitter, and has been shared thousands of times on social media.
The story has proved deeply controversial, and since the incident, numerous people have come out of the woodwork to express their dissatisfaction with the airline. But the most compelling part of the story was the victim himself. Just who was this unfortunate man, and how does he feel about the way he was treated?
This is Dr David Dao, the 69-year-old doctor who was violently dragged off United Airlines Flight 3411. Dr Dao is a Vietnamese-American man, married to paediatrician Teresa Dao, who works in a clinic in Elizabethtown. Dr Dao is a father of five children, four of whom are doctors, and is also a grandfather. Dr Dao allegedly specialises in internal medicine and previously worked at Hardin Memorial Hospital, even owning his own medical practice at one point.
According to a feature by the Sullivan University Herald in 2004, Dr Dao attended medical school at Saigon University until 1974. Because of his good grades, he managed to avoid combat during the height of the Vietnam War. When Saigon fell to Communist forces, Dr Dao fled to the States and finished his medical training in California. In 1980, he relocated to Indiana, where he worked as a prison doctor until 1986.
Dr Dao sustained a burst lip and numerous other injuries to his face as a result of his ejection from the flight. In the video of the incident can be heard muttering the troubling words: “Just kill me. I have to go home.” Although his injuries were not life-threatening, he was hospitalised as a result of his treatment.
It remains to be seen what legal action, if any, Dr Dao will take. What is crystal clear however, is that his treatment was totally unwarranted and unjustified.