Sunday 21 January 2018

'They treated him as if he was a young hurling player' - Lawyer of doctor dragged from plane

United Airlines CEO apologises for incident

David Dao with his wife Teresa
David Dao with his wife Teresa
Amy Molloy

Amy Molloy

Police officers who violently dragged a doctor from a plane "treated him as if he was a young hurling player," his lawyer has said.

Thomas Demetrio said the staff had no consideration for the age of Dr David Dao (69) when they forcibly removed him from an overbooked United Airlines flight.

Speaking on RTÉ Radio 1's Ray D'Arcy Show, Mr Demetrio said: "This was a 69-year-old man..they treated him as if he were a young 22-year-old, they treated him as if he was a young hurling player.

"His two front teeth were knocked out, his nose was broken and he suffered a concussion...that was very harrowing for him," he said.

Video footage of airport police officers pulling the 69-year-old father-of-five from his seat and dragging him down the aisle went viral earlier this month.

Today, United Airlines chief executive Oscar Munoz apologised in a congressional hearing in Washington for the incident.

HORROR in the cabin: Lawyers for Dr David Dao say the 69-year-old grandfather has become ‘a poster child’ for the mistreatment passengers suffer at the hands of the airline industry
HORROR in the cabin: Lawyers for Dr David Dao say the 69-year-old grandfather has become ‘a poster child’ for the mistreatment passengers suffer at the hands of the airline industry

Mr Munoz vowed to do better as he and other airline executives faced tough questions from legislators on Capitol Hill.

He told the hearing that passenger David Dao was treated in a way that no customer should be handled, calling it a "terrible experience" that should never be repeated.

United has taken a series of steps to reduce overbooking of flights since the April 9 incident and will raise to 10,000 dollars (£7,700) the limit on payments to customers who give up seats on oversold flights, Mr Munoz said.

The airline also said it will improve employee training.

"This is a turning point for United, and our 87,000 professionals," he said. "It is my mission to ensure we make the changes needed to provide our customers with the highest level of service and the deepest sense of respect."

The hearing by the House Transportation Committee comes following worldwide outrage when Mr Dao was dragged off a United flight after refusing to give up his seat to a crew member.

The incident ignited a debate about poor service and a lack of customer-friendly policies on US airlines.

Transportation Committee chairman Bill Shuster said the hearing will give legislators "an opportunity to get much-needed answers about airline customer service policies and what is being done to improve service for the flying public".

United moved to head off criticism last week by reaching a settlement with Mr Dao and issuing new policies designed to prevent customer service failures. United and lawyers for Mr Dao have declined to disclose financial terms of the settlement.

United president Scott Kirby joined Mr Munoz at the hearing, along with senior executives of American Airlines, Alaska Airlines and Southwest Airlines.

Mr Dao's lawyer has praised the airline and Mr Munoz for accepting responsibility and not blaming others, including the city of Chicago, whose airport security officers yanked Mr Dao from his seat and dragged him off the United Express plane.

He had been waiting to fly to Louisville, Kentucky, on April 9 when the airline decided it needed four seats for Republic Airline crew members who needed to travel to work on another United Express flight in Louisville the next morning.

When Mr Dao and his wife were selected for removal, he refused to leave.

Video of the incident sparked more than two weeks of criticism and mockery of United. Mr Munoz initially blamed Mr Dao, but later said he was horrified by the event and called it a failure on United's part.

United has vowed to reduce - but not eliminate - overbooking, which occurs when more tickets are sold than there are seats on a plane.

Additional reporting by the Press Association

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