CHICAGO >> The passenger dragged from a United flight lost two front teeth and suffered a broken nose and a concussion, one of his lawyers said Thursday, accusing the airline industry of having “bullied” its customers for far too long.
“Are we going to continue to be treated like cattle?” attorney Thomas Demetrio asked.
The passenger, Dr. David Dao, has been released from a hospital but will need reconstructive surgery, Demetrio said at a news conference, appearing alongside one of Dao’s children. Dao was not there.
The 69-year-old physician from Elizabethtown, Kentucky, was forcibly removed by police from a plane Sunday at Chicago’s O’Hare Airport after refusing to give up his seat on the full flight to make room for four airline employees.
Cellphone video of him being pulled down the aisle by his arms and footage of his bloody face have created a public-relations nightmare for United.
One of Dao’s five children, Crystal Pepper, said the family was “horrified, shocked and sickened” by what happened. She said it was made worse by the fact that it was caught on video.
Demetrio, who indicated Dao is going to sue, said the industry has long “bullied” passengers by overbooking flights and then bumping people, and “it took something like this to get a conversation going.”
“I hope he becomes a poster child for all of us. Someone’s got to,” the lawyer said.
Early on, United CEO Oscar Munoz added to the furor when he apologized for the incident but accused Dao of being belligerent. Later, Munoz offered a more emphatic mea culpa, saying, “No one should ever be mistreated this way.”
He promised to review the airline’s policies to make sure something like that never happens again, and said United will no longer use police to remove bumped passengers. The airline also said all passengers on the flight would get a refund.
In a statement issued immediately after Thursday’s news conference, United insisted that Munoz and the airline called Dao numerous times to apologize. Munoz himself said on Wednesday that he had left a message for Dao.
But Demetrio said neither Dao nor his family had heard from United.
Demetrio said that his client accepts United’s apology, but that the airline seemed to have issued it because it was taking a PR “beating.”
The attorney was unable to say precisely how Dao was injured. Dao didn’t remember exactly what occurred because of the concussion he suffered, Demetrio said.
Demetrio said he doesn’t believe Dao’s race — Dao came to the U.S. from Vietnam in 1975 during the fall of Saigon — played a role in what happened.
Pepper said her father and mother had been traveling from California to Louisville, Kentucky, and had caught a connecting flight at O’Hare. After what happened, Dao “has no interest in ever seeing an airplane” and will probably be driven to Kentucky, Demetrio said.
United had selected Dao and three other passengers at random for removal from the plane after unsuccessfully offering $800 in travel vouchers and a hotel stay to customers willing to give up their seats.
The three Chicago Aviation Department police officers involved have been suspended. The furor could threaten the future of the police force that guards Chicago’s two main airports.
Chicago’s City Council scheduled a hearing Thursday to question United and the Aviation Department about the episode.
Chicago’s roughly 300 aviation officers are not part of the city’s regular police force, receive less training and cannot carry guns inside the airports.
The video-recorded confrontation “really has put it at risk,” Alderman Chris Taliaferro said of the police agency Wednesday.
At the top of the list of the City Council’s questions is whether the officers even had the legal authority to board the plane, said Alderman Michael Zalewski, who leads the council’s aviation committee.
An Aviation Department spokeswoman did not immediately respond to questions about the duties of the police force.