Except that it turned out the problem wasn’t that the flight was over-booked, but that the flight was full and there were four United flight crew members who needed a lift from Chicago to Louisville.
And so the decision was made by whoever makes such decisions that four passengers would be bumped to give up their seats to the United crew members, who apparently needed to be in Louisville to staff a flight taking off from that city.
After all the passengers were on board and seated it was announced that four volunteers were still needed and that the voucher award had gone up to $800. But there were still no takers, and here’s where the story gets a little fuzzy: United claims that the offer went up to $1,000, but the none of the passengers interviewed afterwards say that they heard an offer of $1,000.
In any case, at that point the United staff decided to involuntary-bump four passengers, possibly chosen by computer-roulette with some airline staff decision involved.
Three of the four passengers chosen to lose their seats grudgingly deplaned; but the fourth, a 69-year-old Asian-American doctor, refused to leave his seat. He told the flight attendant that he was a doctor, that he needed to be back at work in the morning, that he had patients who needed to see him.
The flight crew finding themselves between a hard place and this rock of a passenger, called the airport police, three of whom came on board and, as the passengers attest and the videos reveal, proceeded to drag the old man, bloodied and screaming, along the floor to the exit, his baseball cap knocked from his head, his glasses falling off his face and his shirt pulled up to reveal his bare midriff.
Meanwhile the other passengers shouted frantically at the airport police to stop while they aimed their only weapons and took the now infamous and ubiquitously-posted videos of the event that has detonated an explosion of world-wide outrage against United Airlines,
Or was there some other reason, some thing or person besides his work that was so important to him, so needed by him that he must at all costs get back home in time?
Or could it be that Dr. Dao sensed that if it had been an older white doctor who’d refused to relinquish his seat for the reason that he had to get back to his patients he would have been shown respect commensurate with his age and profession? That the police would certainly not have been called? Or maybe, having been treated too often as an Asian rather than as an American, as an Other, as a not-quite-first-class citizen, might it be that he had finally reached the point where he had no more rat’s tails left to give?
But surely Dr. Dao could never have dreamed that for his refusal to give up for the convenience of the airline his right to a seat for which he’d paid, for his refusal to concede that his work and plans were less important than someone else’s, that for those offenses he’d be dragged along the floor like the most despicable criminal, injured, degraded, his humiliation posted for the whole word to see.
And in his worst moments of pain, shame and anger, how could Dr. Dao possibly have foreseen that his ordeal would elevate him, battered and bleeding, to the station of hero for the air-traveling masses, avatar of the annoyed, aggrieved, jet-lagged millions who believe that they’ve been mistreated to feed the greed of the airlines, any more than the airline crew and airport police could have fathomed that this uncooperative Asian man whom they thought nothing of man-handling as if he were not an aging, fragile human being who bruises, bleeds and feels,
Now, hopefully United Airline and its fellow companies have learned otherwise.
As I write this Dr. Dao is recovering in a Chicago hospital from his injuries and is planning a lawsuit against United Airlines.
It will take United Airlines much longer to recover the injuries it has inflicted on itself.