Removal of Passengers from Flights Not Uncommon

On April 9, an unfortunate incident played out on United Airlines Flight 3411. A video captured by a United Airlines’ passenger’s cellphone went viral on social media for its disturbing content concerning a brutalized passenger being dragged off the flight by airline security.

Doctor David Dao, 69, was dragged out of his seat to make room for United Airlines’ employees on a flight from Chicago to Louisville. Due to lack of seating, United Airlines asked for volunteers to stay behind in exchange for $800 vouchers and a hotel stay. United randomly picked four seated passengers to remove. Dao was among those picked, but he refused to give up his seat to take a flight the next day. He claimed to have patients that he needed to treat.

United then summoned airport security officers to ask Dao to leave his seat. Dao started to raise his voice but did not appear hostile. In response to Dao’s persistence, the security officer wrestled him out of his seat and dragged him down the aisle by his arms.

Because of the incident, Dao suffered a concussion, broken nose and damaged sinuses and lost two front teeth. According to NBC News, lawyer Thomas Demetrio said the hospital released Dao and he is now staying in a “secure” location.

Oscar Munoz, the chief executive of United Airlines, called the episode “an upsetting event.”

As stated by The New York Times, Munoz explained, “Our team is moving with a sense of urgency to work with the authorities and conduct our own detailed review of what happened. We are also reaching out to this passenger to talk directly to him and further address to resolve this situation.”

However, United’s early reactions showed a completely opposite attitude towards Dao. Business Insider stated that United responded to the crisis by calling the passenger “disruptive” and “belligerent.”

Munzo responded to Business Inside, saying that there would be no “consideration of firing an employee” over the Dao incident, acknowledging that there had been rumors that even he would lose his job. He called Dao’s eviction from the plane a “system failure,” not the fault of any particular employee.

Daily Mail revealed that Dr. Dao was previously given a suspended jail sentence for illegally obtaining and trafficking controlled substances by fraud and deceit. His license was suspended in 2003, and it was then partially re-instated in 2015.

Dr. Dao’s illegal activity in the past was a separate event that was unrelated to his treatment by United Airlines, who would not have known about his past history beforehand, nor the other passengers.

In response to many who put the blame entirely on United Airlines, Lou Lerda, a previous member of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and member of the Wilson College community, shared his knowledge.

“United Airlines was not the operator of the flight in question. Service was provided by Republic Aviation doing business as United Express under an approved agreement from the FAA,” Lerda stated. “This company also provides service to American Airlines and Delta and formerly to U.S. Airways. This is a common arrangement to expand service without expanding their aircraft fleet or their flight crews.”

Lerda provided additional information regarding the Code of Federal Regulations: There are two major Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) series that cover this incident, Title 14 (FAA) and Title 49 (Transportation). The first is 14 CFR 121 which specifies the rules under which the airline must operate to be certificated as a scheduled air carrier. Under part 121, the rules to maintain scheduled service including placing flight crew members on a flight due to unforeseen and or emergency relocation and the removal of passengers to accommodate said crews is authorized. The second Title, 49 specifies what an airport must do in the area of security. Hence you have the Transportation Security Administrations (TSA) and either state or local law enforcement individuals who provide the police officers to take required action once the situation is beyond the capability of the flight crew personnel.

Lerda added, “The company personnel did what they were required to do once the Captain and Senior Flight Attendant requested the individual to depart the aircraft. Anyone can at any time be requested to deplane or not board an aircraft if there is a suspected or actual violation for the CFR’s. The normal overbook procedure is to request volunteers and offer “perks” to those who are willing to give up their seats prior to boarding, not to come on board or ask folks to give up their seats. Since 9/11, if you are requested to leave an aircraft and the flight crew request security, it now becomes an enforcement incident.”

While many argue that Dr. Dao deserves to be treated with disrespect based on his background with drugs, others protected Dr. Dao’s rights as a passenger, which were just as equal as the rest of the passengers.

Wilson student Christina Sturgeon ’17 offered her opinion, stating, “We did not see the beginning of the video so we don’t know how aggressive Dr. Dao might have been. Surely they would not have called the police if it was not a serious situation. Still, his removal from the aircraft should have been carried out in a more dignified way.”

Lerda was also not surprised about the lack of seating on the aircraft.

“If you think this an unusual situation, sorry folks, it isn’t,” Lerda says. “As an FAA Inspector, I was requested to surrender my seat on several occasions for ‘crew relocation and emergency prepositioning.’ Next time you book your flight, note who you are actually flying with. With the new code share/paring, you could be flying with Joe Smith Airways filling in for your main carrier.”

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