Every so often a customer service horror story emerges that is so egregious, the world just has to stop and take notice.
Such was the case of a doctor who refused to vacate his seat on an overbooked United flight from Chicago to Louisville, Kentucky.
United passenger forcibly removed from plane
Passengers were already seated aboard Flight 3411 on April 9 when an announcement was made that the flight was overbooked.
The airline asked for four volunteers to surrender their seats to airline employees who were on stand-by. Compensation was offered to the volunteers.
When no volunteers came forward, airline employees then had to select four passengers at random to be bumped from the flight.
The first two passengers went willingly. So did the final passenger. But the third passenger — since identified as 69-year-old doctor David Dao who said he had patients in Louisville he needed to see on Monday morning — refused to leave his seat.
At that point, the airline chose to call for law enforcement.
The aftermath of what happened was caught on video by fellow passengers. You’ve probably seen the clips by now, but in the unlikely event you haven’t, scroll down below to watch what happened…
Updating the legal fallout
All three officers involved in removing Dao from the flight have been put on leave.
On April 12, his attorneys requested that Chicago officials and United preserve “all video, cockpit recordings and other reports from the flight, along with the personnel files of the Aviation Department officers who pulled Dao from the plane,” the Chicago Tribune reported.
“Will there be a lawsuit? Yeah, probably,” Chicago-based personal injury lawyer Thomas Demetrio said April 13 during a press conference. “As you know, we’ve taken a step … to protect and preserve certain evidence we’re going to need down the line. It’s not just a matter of throwing the video up and asking the jury, ‘OK, who wins?’”
Dao suffered various injuries, including a severe concussion, a broken nose and an unspecified injury to his sinuses, Demetrio said. He will need reconstructive surgery and lost two front teeth.
Dao would have a strong case if he chose to sue United, according to legal experts.
United CEO Oscar Munoz apologized for the incident and vowed April 11 that the company would no long ask police to remove passengers from full flights. He also offered full refunds, in the form of cash, miles or travel credits, to all the passengers aboard Flight 3411.
Stay tuned for updates to this developing story…
Editor’s note: This video shows behavior of a disturbing nature. Viewer discretion is advised.
Post-mortem: Take a look back at United’s initial response to this debacle
Predictably, United has gotten scorned on social media over this unfortunate incident right from the get-go.
Yet while United CEO Oscar Munoz was quick to publicly apologize for what he called “having to re-accommodate these customers,” it’s been a very different story internally at the airline.
Here was the first public response
But this was the private response
In an email to employees obtained by CNBC, Munoz writes that passenger David Dao was “disruptive and belligerent” and that United employees “followed established procedures” before he was ejected from the plane.
While acknowledging that United could learn from this incident, Munoz wrote “I emphatically stand behind all of you” in his internal email.
Here’s another means of recourse: Contact the DOT
This will actually come as a big surprise, but United actually received improving marks in the newly released 2017 Airline Quality Rating when it comes to the rate of involuntary denied boardings! Ditto for their performance on other key metrics like on-time performance, rate of mishandled bags and customer complaints.
That said, a lot of people have gotten angry at United over the David Dao incident.
Consumers are now wondering how they can most effectively voice their displeasure with airlines — other than just turning to social media.
It turns out another good way to handle a consumer complaint against an airline is to get in touch with the Department of Transportation.
“Where appropriate, letters and web form submissions will be forwarded to an official at the airline for further consideration,” the DOT writes online.
Remember, the power is in your hands — by hook or by crook — to make airlines answer for their misbehavior.
It may take the power of social media, or the power of a DOT complaint. Or maybe a combination of both. But whatever button it is that works, you as the consumer have got to push it!
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Additional reporting provided by Theresa Seiger, Cox Media Group National Content Desk