Sunday evening, Dr. David Dao was seated on a United Airlines flight bound for Louisville, Kentucky. As part of what has become standard operating procedure in the airline industry, the flight was overbooked. Seats needed to be cleared to allow for flight crew to be on the plane. What ensued has become international outrage that has yet to be calmed. People have asked whether or not this can be considered assault and battery against Mr. Dao. In a climate where violence committed by law enforcement is under the greatest scrutiny it has ever seen, this incident has only further stoked concerns.
What happened on that United flight?
There are conflicting reports about almost everything surrounding the event. Some reports claim that when United flight attendants asked for volunteers to be bumped off the flight, nobody stepped forward. Other witnesses claim that people did volunteer, and that Dao and his wife were among them. But then he learned that there were no flights to transfer to until Monday afternoon.
Oscar Munoz, United CEO, claimed that Dao was disruptive and belligerent in an email to his employees. Then the footage went viral, and the damage control began. News stories sprouted immediately about Dr. David Dao’s personal legal history. Munoz himself appeared on Good Morning America Wednesday. Rather than accusing the passenger of poor conduct, he claimed that what happened shouldn’t have.
After discovering he would be late for work the next morning, Dao refused to leave the plane. A witness seated behind Dr. Dao claimed that the man was never belligerent. He was calm and collected as he argued with airport security agents. More footage shows Dr. Dao calling United via mobile phone, trying to remain on the flight.
During the argument, one officer threatened Dao both with the use of force and jail time. When he was pulled out of his seat, his face struck an arm rest. This lead to the now iconic images of his body being dragged off the plane, blood streaming from his mouth. He returned to the plane later, in a daze, repeating “I have to go home., I have to go home.”
When he was pulled off the plane on a second time, it was on a stretcher, and his new destination was a Chicago hospital. And the question of assault and battery comes up.
What is Assault and Battery?
In the US, assault is commonly defined by the attempt to commit battery. Battery is the unlawful application of force to a person that results in an offensive touch, or injury. And of course, there are differences in how this is interpreted in all 50 states.
How could this happen?
Legally, airlines are allowed to bump people off overbooked flights. Additionally, federal regulations allow airlines to overbook flights because passengers do regularly fail to show up to their flights.
So in this situation, United was technically in the right to request passengers to leave the aircraft. Additionally, airlines often provide incentives to passengers to encourage them to leave. Furthermore, passengers are obligated by federal regulations to follow the directions of the crew at all times, for safety and security concerns.
But, as the videos that have gone viral around the world show, the situation was mishandled on the plane itself. Even if the officers who dragged David Dao off the plane did not want to harm him, he can clearly be seen bleeding from the mouth. More concerning, there is no footage of anything that may have happened to him after being pulled off the plane the first or second time, fueling concerns of assault and battery.
United Airlines has put on the ‘Fasten Seatbelts’ sign
United’s stock fell dramatically within a day of the actual incident, though it has mostly recovered from the initial shock. Social media in the US and China remains alight with anger at the airline giant. Parodies of old United Airlines ads have been making the rounds, and even other airlines have been getting involved. Chinese-Americans and Chinese nationals alike have accused United of racism for their handling of the situation. Comedians have all but taken spots in a line to have a crack at this PR disaster
Oscar Munoz has reached out to Dr. Dao in apology. As the footage shows, there is bound to be a serious lawsuit in the near future. Whether or not this can be proven as assault and battery, or simply procedure having gone drastically wrong, remains to be seen.