NEW YORK, NY April 13 (DPI) — In this age of Anyone Can Videotape Anything Any Time, it seems almost unthinkable that a major airline would risk an always fragile reputation by forcibly removing a random passenger from a crowded flight.
But that’s exactly what United Airlines did last Sunday, and the fallout, across the media and the internet, is still being felt.
Beyond the PR mess for the airline, the incident will likely win the passenger, 69-year-old Louisville doctor David Dao, millions in financial settlements, both from United and the City of Chicago. According to Reuters, a lawyer at a firm specializing in air disaster litigation, said, “United, if they’re smart, will quickly and quietly settle.”
Still, the airline initially claimed that the passenger resisted and was being “belligerent,” and it wasn’t until mid-week that the CEO of United, Oscar Munoz, issued an apology. And two days after the Sunday incident someone – it’s not clear who – released sordid background information about the passenger, which gossipy news sites like DailyMail.com picked up,
The reports suggested that Dao is – or has been – mentally unstable. But readers of the report – more than 4000 as of Wednesday on the DailyMail site – would have none of it. The best rated comment: “Well done DailyMail – you have reached new levels of gutter press.”
Remarkably, the mainstream media – particularly the networks news shows – kept referring to the “PR disaster” for United, an almost unconscious suggestion that the problem was more one of image rather than of substance.
Many travelers do recognize that private airlines, who are responsible for their paying passengers, have always had the right to remove anyone and everyone from one of their airplanes, for any reason. That Dao resisted so intensely suggests that he did play a role in how the incident played out.
But that is a moot point now, and it hardly exculpates United.
News outlets everywhere are quoting aviation lawyers that what the airline did – forcibly removing the passenger for reasons other that security and safety – was illegal.