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UNFRIENDLY SKIES. This image made from a video provided by Audra D. Bridges shows a passenger being removed from a United Airlines flight in Chicago. Video of police officers dragging the passenger from an overbooked United Airlines flight sparked an uproar on social media. (Audra D. Bridges via AP)

From The Asian Reporter, V27, #8 (April 17, 2017), page 4.

United passenger’s removal sparks outrage in China

By Matthew Brown

The Associated Press

BEIJING — Images of a bloodied man being forcibly removed from a United Airlines flight in Chicago drew widespread condemnation in China, where state media fuelled the public’s anger with reports that noted the unidentified victim was an "Asian passenger."

Video of the violent incident posted on China’s popular Twitter-like microblogging service Weibo was viewed more than 200 million times within days. Many responded with outrage over perceived bias against the passenger and some called for a boycott of the U.S.-based airline.

"Rubbish!" writer Su Danqing posted on Weibo. "When they were treating this Asian man, they never thought of human rights, otherwise they wouldn’t have done it that way."

"Damn it! This airline must be boycotted!" said a posting from Liu Bing, a telecommunications company worker.

United does considerable business with Chinese passengers and a consumer boycott could cause it serious pain. United says it operates more nonstop U.S.-China flights to more cities in China than any other airline.

Rowdiness has long been associated with air travel in China, including passengers getting into fights with crew members and a vicious assault last year in which an enraged customer smashed an airline check-in clerk in the head with a brass plaque.

The United incident appeared to feed into such customer frustrations — only this time the tables were turned and the passenger was cast as the victim.

United executives struggled to control the public relations damage.

Airline CEO Oscar Munoz said the man removed from the Chicago-to-Kentucky flight — later identified as Dr. David Dao, a Vietnamese American from Elizabethtown, Kentucky — had become "disruptive and belligerent" after he was asked to leave the plane to make room for several employees of a partner airline who wanted on the flight.

When the man refused, officers from the Chicago Aviation Department came in and first tried to reason with him before pulling him from his seat by force and dragging him away, according to a passenger, Tyler Bridges, whose wife later posted a video of the altercation on Facebook.

Associated Press news assistant Yu Bing contributed to this report.

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From The Asian Reporter, V27, #8 (April 17, 2017), page 7.

Lawyer says dragged passenger lost two teeth and broke his nose

By Don Babwin and Sara Burnett

The Associated Press

CHICAGO — The passenger dragged from a United Airlines flight lost two front teeth and suffered a broken nose and a concussion, his lawyer said, accusing the airline industry of having "bullied" its customers for far too long.

"Are we going to continue to be treated like cattle?" attorney Thomas Demetrio asked.

The passenger, Dr. David Dao, has been released from a hospital but will need reconstructive surgery, Demetrio said at a news conference, appearing alongside one of Dao’s children. Dao was not there.

The 69-year-old physician from Elizabethtown, Kentucky, was removed by police from the United Express flight at Chicago’s O’Hare Airport after refusing to give up his seat on the full plane to make room for four airline employees.

Cellphone video of him being pulled down the aisle on his back and footage of his bloody face have created a public-relations nightmare for United.

One of Dao’s five children, Crystal Pepper, said the family was "horrified, shocked, and sickened" by what happened. She said it was made worse by the fact that it was caught on video.

For Dao, who came to the U.S. after fleeing Vietnam by boat in 1975 when Saigon fell, being dragged off the plane "was more horrifying and harrowing than what he experienced in leaving Vietnam," Demetrio said.

Demetrio, who indicated Dao is going to sue, said the industry has long "bullied" passengers by overbooking flights and then bumping people, and "it took something like this to get a conversation going."

"I hope he becomes a poster child for all of us. Someone’s got to," the lawyer said.

Early on, United CEO Oscar Munoz added to the furor when he apologized for the incident but accused Dao of being belligerent. Later, Munoz offered a more emphatic mea culpa, saying, "No one should ever be mistreated this way."

He promised to review the airline’s policies to make sure something like that never happens again, and said United will no longer use police to remove bumped passengers. The airline also said all passengers on the flight would get a refund.

In a statement issued immediately after the news conference, United insisted that Munoz and the airline called Dao numerous times to apologize. Munoz himself said he had left a message for Dao.

But Demetrio said neither Dao nor his family had heard from United.

Demetrio said his client accepts the apology. But the attorney questioned its sincerity, suggesting United acted because it was taking a PR "beating."

The attorney was unable to say precisely how Dao was injured. Dao didn’t remember exactly what occurred because of the concussion he suffered, Demetrio said.

Pepper said her father and mother had been travelling from California to Louisville, Kentucky, and had caught a connecting flight at O’Hare. After what happened, Dao "has no interest in ever seeing an airplane" and will probably be driven to Kentucky, Demetrio said.

United had selected Dao and three other passengers at random for removal from the plane after unsuccessfully offering $800 in travel vouchers and a hotel stay to customers willing to give up their seats.

The three officers who removed Dao have been suspended from their jobs at the Chicago Aviation Department.

At a city council committee hearing, aldermen ripped into officials from United and the department about the episode.

"There are no excuses," alderman Michael Zalewski said.

John Slater, a United vice president, said that bumping passengers to accommodate airline employees happens infrequently, and that federal guidelines requiring rest for crew members made it necessary to get the employees on the flight to Louisville.

The Aviation Department’s roughly 300 officers guard the city’s two main airports but are not part of the regular Chicago police force, receive less training, and cannot carry guns inside the terminals.

"To be quite frank, Chicago employees should not be doing the dirty work for the friendly skies airline," said alderman Ed Burke, who played video of Dao being removed.

Aviation commissioner Ginger Evans told the committee that the officers had the authority to board the flight but that what happened on the plane is being investigated.

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