In an hourlong news conference that touched on race, policing and airline manners, a lawyer for the passenger dragged off a United flight on Sunday listed his client’s injuries: A broken nose, a concussion, two knocked-out teeth and sinus problems that may require reconstructive surgery.
“For a long time, airlines, United in particular, have bullied us,” the lawyer, Thomas A. Demetrio, said Thursday in downtown Chicago.
“Are we going to just continue to be treated like cattle – bullied, rude treatment?” asked Demetrio, who blamed his client’s injuries on a culture of disrespect at United Airlines and overly aggressive tactics from Chicago aviation police. He said a lawsuit was likely.
The video of Dr. David Dao, 69, of Kentucky, being bloodied as he was pulled off the flight on Sunday in order to make room for four United employees has sparked conversation and outrage around the world. The three Chicago aviation police officers who removed Dao from the plane have been placed on administrative leave.
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After initially defending the airline’s policies, United’s chief executive apologized. United has offered a refund to every passenger on the flight and has promised to no longer have the police remove passengers from planes that are too full.
“This horrible situation has provided a harsh learning experience from which we will take immediate, concrete action,” the company said in a statement Thursday. “We have committed to our customers and our employees that we are going to fix what’s broken so this never happens again.”
But those assurances have done little to quell the outrage, evidenced by the phalanx of news cameras from around the world that assembled Thursday to hear from Demetrio and Crystal Dao Pepper, one of Dao’s five children.
“What happened to my dad should have never happened to any human being regardless of the circumstances,” said Dao Pepper. She said her father was catching a connecting flight in Chicago to his home in Louisville, Kentucky, after a vacation in California.
Even as millions have watched the footage of Dao screaming as he was removed from the flight, his family has asked for privacy. Demetrio said his client fled Vietnam in the 1970s, and that he and his wife worked as physicians in Kentucky.
“He left Vietnam in 1975 when Saigon fell, and he was on a boat and he said he was terrified,” Demetrio said, recalling a conversation with his client. “He said that being dragged down the aisle was more horrifying and terrible than what he experienced in leaving Vietnam.”
Dao has not spoken publicly about the ordeal, and Demetrio declined to comment on his whereabouts, other than saying he was in “a secure location.” While some have pointed to the episode as an example of racism toward Asians, Demetrio said he did not believe race played a role in what happened.