NORTHWEST ASIAN WEEKLY
Dr. David Dao is recovering at a Chicago hospital after he was forcibly removed from a United Airlines flight headed to Louisville, Ky. on April 9. The incident was caught on videos taken by other passengers — provoking an outcry on social media.
In a statement, United said, “Flight 3411 from Chicago to Louisville was overbooked. After our team looked for volunteers, one customer refused to leave the aircraft voluntarily and law enforcement was asked to come to the gate. We apologize for the overbook situation.”
The airline was asking already seated passengers to voluntarily give up their seats for $800 — in order to make room for four employees who needed to get to Kentucky. When the appeal failed, United staff said they randomly selected four passengers by computer. One couple and another passenger left the plane peacefully, but Dao, who’s Vietnamese-Chinese —said he was a doctor and needed to fly home for work — and he refused. That’s when airport law enforcement was called to remove him by force.
Videos show Dao, 69, being carried by his arms and legs down the aisle with his midriff showing and glasses askew. He appeared to go limp after being slammed against a headrest and one passenger said he was “knocked out.”
The image sparked an outpouring of support for the pulmonologist, who reportedly said during the altercation that he had to get home to care for patients the next day. Another video showed Dao with blood dripping from his face, saying “I have to go home.”
The airline’s CEO on April 10 called the incident “an upsetting event to all of us here at United.”
“I apologize for having to re-accommodate these customers,” said Oscar Munoz. In a letter to employees later that same day, Munoz wrote that Dao “defied” officers after being “politely asked to deplane” and became “disruptive and belligerent.” He defended his employees and said they followed proper procedures in dealing with the situation.
United is now facing a federal investigation. The Department of Transportation has announced that it will particularly examine rules regarding overbooked flights, as well as the procedures for dealing with fliers who refuse to give up their seats.
The incident has also prompted calls for a congressional investigation and a review of policy. The Chicago’s Department of Aviation confirmed that the security officer who dragged Dao from his seat has been placed on leave, and it said in a statement that it does not condone his actions.
According to The Courier-Journal in Louisville, Dao went to medical school in Vietnam in the 1970s before moving to the United States. Dao, who previously worked at Hardin Memorial Hospital in Elizabethtown, Ky. and once owned a medical practice, is a grandfather and father of five. His wife, Teresa, who trained at Ho Chi Minh University in Saigon, is a pediatrician in Elizabethtown. Four of their five children are doctors.
Dao was arrested in 2003 and eventually convicted of multiple drug-related offenses after an undercover investigation. According to documents filed with the Kentucky Board of Medical Licensure, Dao was involved in fraudulent prescriptions for controlled substances and was involved with a man whom he arranged to trade prescription drugs for sexual favors.
In February 2005, Dao surrendered his medical license to the Kentucky Board of Medical Licensure.
The following year, Dao joined the World Series of Poker (WSOP) circuit and spent the next decade at the tables, earning $234,664. His biggest win came during a game in Mississippi in 2008 when he took home $117,744, according to WSOP.
In 2015, the Kentucky Board of Medical Licensure lifted Dao’s suspension and allowed him to practice medicine with some restrictions.
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