At the center of the scandal surrounding United Airlines' forcible removal of a passenger on Sunday is David Dao. The doctor from Kentucky is the man seen in viral video footage being pulled out of his seat and dragged down the aisle of a plane bound for Louisville. Today, his lawyers spoke publicly for the first time about the way he was treated by airport security and United Airlines, and why he will seek legal action against the company.
Thomas Demetrio, Dao's attorney, opened the press conference. "We're gathered here because of a rather disturbing video," he said. "Mr. Munoz has taken to the airways and given his view," he continued, referring to United Airlines' CEO, saying this was part of why they felt they needed to come forward and give their point of view as well.
"Under no circumstances can it be done with unreasonable force or law," Demetrio stated, referring to how a passenger can and cannot be removed from a flight.
"Dr. Dao, I think to his great credit, has come to understand that he's the guy. He's the guy to stand up for passengers, going forward," Demetrio went on. He pointed out that "initially, he [Munoz] backed up his people," rather than defend the rights of Dao to be treated with basic decency and respect. It was part of a larger theme running throughout Demetrio's entire argument, that corporate culture altogether needs to recognize that customers deserve a guaranteed baseline level of dignified treatment.
"We're going to be vocal about the whole subject of what we as a society say passengers are entitled to. Are we going to continue to be treated like cattle?" Demetrio asked.
Crystal Dao Pepper, Dr. Dao's daughter, then spoke, first expressing her gratitude for the "huge outpouring of prayers, love, and concern" they've received. She said they were "horrified and shocked and sickened" when they learned what had happened to her father. "Seeing it on video made those emotions exacerbated."
When asked if he thought the episode had been related to race, Demetrio insisted he did not think that was the case. "What happened to Dr. Dao could have happened to any one of us," he said. "He's a 69-year-old man. Is that really how we want to treat the aged?"
Dr. Dao has been released from the hospital, but Demetrio revealed he had suffered a serious concussion as well as a broken nose, with injuries that will require reconstructive surgery. He also lost two of his front teeth. Demetrio said they hoped that no long-term cognitive damage had been done, but "he's shaken."
No one from the Dao family or Dao's legal team has heard from United Airlines.
Demetrio also said that Dao had told him that being dragged off the United flight was a more harrowing experience than when he fled Vietnam in 1975 during the fall of Saigon.
"Just because United is responsible doesn't mean the city of Chicago is not also responsible," Demetrio stated, in response to a question about how the airport security officers' actions were or were not related to United Airlines itself. "Nothing in the training says... in a non-confrontational situation where the other passengers are not in jeopardy says that this kind of force should be utilized."
"He is a loving grandfather," Pepper said, after revealing her father has five adult children.
Demetrio noted that United is paying each of the passengers the full fare price of that flight. "One wonders why they would do that," he wondered aloud, going on to say that won't keep any of the witnesses quiet about what they saw. Asked what he hopes in a response from United, Demetrio said, "The whole culture has to change."
Demetrio said that, due to the concussion, Dao has no recollection of returning to the plane after being removed the first time and added that he hopes "Dr. Dao is the only one" who experienced this kind of physical violence in being removed from an aircraft. He later said Dao "has no interest in ever seeing an airplane," and speculated that Dao will be driven back home to Kentucky.
Demetrio said he does not know when they will be prepared to file their suit. He noted they had two years to do so, but he does not anticipate it will take nearly that long.
Initial reports stated that the flight Dao was on had been overbooked. But in fact, Dao and three other passengers were made to vacate their seats so United personnel could use them instead. Passengers were originally asked to volunteer to de-board the plane, but no one took the offer. United then chose four passengers at random, Dao being one of them.
When he refused to leave, United called airport security. Video shows how they physically forced Dao out of his seat and dragged him off the plane. Dao later appears with a bloodied face, clearly shaken by the experience.