By MICHAEL TARM and DON BABWIN
CHICAGO (AP) — The passenger who was dragged off a flight after refusing to give up his seat settled with United for an undisclosed sum on April 27, in an apparent attempt by the airline to put the fiasco behind it as quickly as possible.
David Dao’s legal team said the agreement includes a provision that the amount will remain confidential. One his lawyers praised United CEO Oscar Munoz.
Munoz “said he was going to do the right thing, and he has,” attorney Thomas Demetrio said in a brief statement. “In addition, United has taken full responsibility for what happened … without attempting to blame others, including the city of Chicago.”
The deal came less than three weeks after the episode and before Dao had even sued. The deal means United will not face a lawsuit, which could have been costly, both in legal bills and in further damage to the airline’s reputation.
Keeping settlement amounts secret is standard practice, including because companies often don’t want others contemplating lawsuits or negotiating deals over separate grievances to know how much they’ve been willing to pay previously.
Several legal observers unconnected to Dao’s case said a payout to him of a few million dollars was possible. Chicago-based attorney Terry Sullivan said United executives may have been willing to pay as much as $5 million to make this particular case go away. “United just couldn’t afford any more bad publicity on this,” he said.
United issued a brief statement, saying it was pleased to report “an amicable resolution of the unfortunate incident that occurred aboard Flight 3411.”
The dragging was one of several recent embarrassments for United.
The airline was criticized in March after a gate agent stopped two teenage girls from boarding a flight because they were wearing leggings — an apparent violation of a dress code for passengers traveling in a program for employees and their dependents. Then a giant showcase rabbit died this week after it was shipped across the Atlantic on a United flight from London’s Heathrow Airport to O’Hare.
Cellphone video of the April 9 confrontation aboard a jetliner at Chicago’s O’Hare Airport sparked widespread public outrage over the way Dao was treated.
The footage showed airport police officers pulling the 69-year-old Kentucky physician from his seat and dragging him down the aisle. His lawyer said he lost teeth and suffered a broken nose and a concussion.
In a phone interview with The Associated Press, Demetrio said the settlement also averts any lawsuit against Chicago officials. The airport police officers who pulled Dao off the jet work for the city.
“I praise Mr. Munoz and his people for not trying to throw the city under the bus or pass the buck,” Demetrio said. “He stood in front of the world and has stated that, ‘We, United, take full responsibility.’”
Demetrio said it was “unheard of” for a company to admit responsibility so quickly and completely.
“I hope corporate America notices when you goof up, people respect you a heck of a lot more when you admit it, instead of making people go through three years of depositions, motions, court hearings.”
He said Dao was also impressed that “United stepped up to the plate.”
The incident arose from a common air travel issue — a fully booked flight. Wanting to seat four crew members, the airline offered passengers $400 and later $800 to voluntarily relinquish their seats. When no one did, United selected four passengers at random.
Three people got off the flight, but Dao refused, saying he needed to get home to treat patients the next day. The airline then summoned the officers, who forcibly removed Dao.
The dragging was a major public-relations crisis for United. The company’s response in the immediate aftermath was widely criticized. Munoz first defended the airline and described Dao as “belligerent” before publicly apologizing days later and vowing to do better.
The three airport police officers who took Dao off the plane were placed on leave from the Chicago Department of Aviation.
The agency released a report on April 24 in which the officer who pulled Dao from his seat, James Long, gave his version of events. Long said Dao was verbally and physically abusive and was flailing his arms before he lost his balance and struck his mouth on an armrest.
The department’s roughly 300 officers guard the city’s two main airports but are not part of the regular Chicago police force. They receive less training and cannot carry guns inside the terminals.
Also on April 27, the airline released a report detailing mistakes that led to the incident. United said it would raise to $10,000 the limit on the payments it offers to customers who give up seats on oversold flights and increase training for airline employees.
The airline has vowed to reduce, but not eliminate, overbooking.
United representatives have not said whether ticket sales have dropped since Dao was removed from the jet.