By DON BABWIN and SARA BURNETT, Associated Press
CHICAGO (AP) — The passenger dragged from a United Express flight suffered a “significant” concussion and broken nose, and he lost two front teeth, one of his lawyers said Thursday.
Dr. David Dao has been discharged from a hospital but he will require reconstructive surgery, said attorney Thomas Demetrio, whose law firm is representing the 69-year-old Kentucky physician.
Dao was removed from the plane Sunday after he refused to give up his seat on the full flight from Chicago to Louisville to make room for four crew members. In widely distributed cellphone video , Dao can be seen being pulled from his seat and dragged away by airport police officers, his face bloodied.
One of Dao’s five children, Crystal Pepper, said the family was “horrified, shocked and sickened” to learn and see what happened. She said seeing her father removed from the Sunday flight was “exacerbated” by the fact it was caught on video.
Demetrio indicated he will be filing a lawsuit on Dao’s behalf, adding that airlines — and United in particular — have long “bullied” passengers by overbooking flights and then bumping customers. He said the treatment of Dao was particularly violent, but “it took something like this to get a conversation going.”
“They have treated us less than maybe we deserve,” Demetrio said. “Are we going to continue to be treated like cattle?”
The incident has become a public-relations nightmare for United and led to the suspension of the three police officers, who work for the Chicago Department of Aviation, which is a city-run agency.
United Airlines CEO Oscar Munoz, who issued a public apology two days after first blaming Dao, has said he was “ashamed” when he saw the video. He promised the company will review its policies and that law enforcement will no longer be allowed to remove passengers.
United also announced that passengers on United Express Flight 3411 would be compensated with cash, travel credits or miles in an amount equal to the cost of their tickets.
Demetrio said Thursday he and his client accept the apology, but that it seemed “staged” and like it was issued because the airline was taking a public relations “beating.”
He said Dao didn’t remember what exactly occurred when he was removed from the flight, including getting back on the plane, because of the concussion he suffered. Demetrio also 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 were traveling from California to Louisville, and caught a connecting flight at O’Hare. After what occurred, Dao “has no interest in ever seeing an airplane” and will likely be driven to Kentucky, Demetrio said.
The video shined an unwanted spotlight on the airline and the little-known police force that guards Chicago’s two main airports, and it could threaten the agency’s future.
Chicago’s aviation officers are not part of the regular police force, unlike in many other big cities. They get less training than regular officers and can’t carry firearms inside the airports.
Cellphone footage of the confrontation “really has put it at risk,” Alderman Chris Taliaferro said Wednesday, a day before aldermen were scheduled to grill United and the Chicago Aviation Department about Sunday’s incident. At the top of the list of the City Council’s questions is whether the airport officers even had the legal authority to board the plane, said Alderman Michael Zalewski, who leads the council’s aviation committee.
“They are allowed in the terminal and baggage area, but my understanding is they may not be allowed on a plane,” he said. Zalewski also said that he is not sure if the officers have the authority to make arrests or if they are authorized only to write tickets.
An Aviation Department spokeswoman did not respond to questions about the duties of the aviation police force, but Zalewski said the agency’s commissioner will be asked that on Thursday.
The department will also be asked about training. Zalewski said airport officers receive four months of training compared with the six months cadets must complete before joining the city’s police department.
“We don’t know what that two-month gap means,” he said, adding that he will ask if the airport officers receive the same kind of training in de-escalating tense situations that city police officers get.
The roughly 300 aviation police officers earn between $50,000 and $88,000 a year and cost the city about $19 million a year. They are city employees but not members of the Chicago Police Department.