A man was forcefully removed from a United Airlines Chicago-Louisville flight by aviation police officials at Chicago’s O’Hare international airport on Sunday (9 April).
It has been revealed that the man removed from the plane was Dr David Dao, a Vietnamese-American doctor. He has five children, four of whom are doctors, and is married to paediatrician, Dr Teresa Dao.
Due to United Express Flight 3411 being overbooked, four passengers were asked to leave the plane. According to The Independent, “United Airlines’ parent company chief executive Oscar Munoz revealed the company had been trying to make room for four employees of a partner airline, which resulted in four passengers being told to get off the flight from Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport to Louisville”.
The viral video of the man being violently dragged was filmed by several passengers on board. Jayse D. Anspach, a passenger seated close to where Dr Dao was manhandled, filmed the incident and posted it on her Twitter account. Her video has since been retweeted 167,267 times.
— Jayse D. Anspach (@JayseDavid) April 10, 2017
Oscar Munoz, United Airline’s CEO issues statement
Jayse D. Anspach, a witness, told WHAS11 News that 10 minutes after he was forcibly removed from the flight, Dr Dao ran back into the plane, his face still bloody, clung onto a post at the back, and kept repeating “I need to go home”.
United quickly issued a statement from their CEO, Oscar Munoz, after the incident occurred.
The statement received backlash from netizens, raising eyebrows at United’s method of “re-accomodating” passengers and how people doubted if the airline was apologetic.
Yesterday, another statement was issued:
The truly horrific event that occurred on this flight has elicited many responses from all of us: outrage, anger, disappointment. I share all of those sentiments, and one above all: my deepest apologies for what happened. Like you, I continue to be disturbed by what happened on this flight and I deeply apologize to the customer forcibly removed and to all the customers aboard. No one should ever be mistreated this way.
I want you to know that we take full responsibility and we will work to make it right.
It’s never too late to do the right thing. I have committed to our customers and our employees that we are going to fix what’s broken so this never happens again. This will include a thorough review of crew movement, our policies for incentivizing volunteers in these situations, how we handle oversold situations and an examination of how we partner with airport authorities and local law enforcement. We’ll communicate the results of our review by April 30th.
I promise you we will do better.
In the midst of statements released by the airline, CNBC obtained an email that was sent out to the staff of United. Senior Assignment Desk Manager and Manager of CNBC Business News Internship Program Ryan Ruggiero shared the email on his Twitter. In the email, Mr Munoz said he stands behind his staff and commends them for “continuing to go above and beyond to ensure we fly right”. In the breakdown of events noted by the CEO, he narrated how Mr Dao was reluctant to leave the flight and described him as “disruptive” and “belligerent”.
— Ryan Ruggiero (@RyanRuggiero) April 10, 2017
The letter to his staff came after the first public statement from United addressing the issue. There has also been official pages on Twitter and Facebook calling for the boycott of the airline.
The Internet responds
The public relations disaster from United Airlines prompted netizens to post their suggested United Airlines motto on Twitter with the hashtag #newunitedairlinesmottos.
Many believed that Southwest Airlines also took a jab at United with a new slogan:
A check by TOC showed no official slogan released by the airlines. They did, however, actively replied to Twitter users who engaged them on the thread about United.
Emirates Airline, on the other hand, did not hold back. In a tweet on 12 April, the airline mentioned in their video how Mr Munoz had said, “Those (gulf) airlines aren’t airlines.” This was Emirates Airline’s response:
United loses stock
In the latest update by the story unfolding around United, United’s market capitalization, (the company’s current value), fell by over $750 million, according to Gizmodo. From United’s market cap being $22.5 billion as of Monday’s close, to $21.70 billion by Tuesday, it is predicted that the stock will continue to plummet by at least 2.8% by the end of the week, making a significant loss of United’s market value by over $600 million since last week’s close.
Airlines have a legal right to overbook flights
It is not uncommon for airlines to overbook their flights. There are usually about 10 to 15 extra passengers onboard flights to make up for the number of no-shows, according to FlightGlobal’s Asia Finance Editor Ellis Taylor’s conversation with Channel NewsAsia.
“In the case of United, it looks like this was a last-minute situation where they had to accommodate staff,” the FlightGlobal editor said.
But if no one volunteers, airlines have the right to offload passengers, and even get security involved. “Every time you buy an airline ticket, the conditions will state that the airline can offload you at any point of their flight and it is usually a last resort for airlines to force people off an aircraft. In this situation, there could be more to it than the video lets on,” he added.
The shocking turn of events for Flight 3411 only came to light from the outcry of extreme unfair treatment and filming from passengers on board. With close to one billion worth of stock wiped off the company’s value, following the PR disaster and a possible pending lawsuit against United, the era of social media has taken a new meaning to bringing light to issues that could have easily been swept under the rug by corporations.