Anger at United Airlines misplaced

By TYLER BARTON/Montana State News

David Dao, a paid passenger of United Airlines Flight 3411, screamed and struggled as he was forcibly pulled from his seat by security officers recently. Dao sustained considerable injuries, including a significant concussion, two broken front teeth, a badly broken nose, and injury to the sinuses.

David Dao, a 69-year-old Vietnamese doctor, said he was on his way to see patients the next morning. It did not matter. Security officers boarded the plane, and forcibly removed Dao. The company later accused him of being “belligerent and disruptive.”

But here’s the catch: The whole incident was caught on video by a nearby passenger. The footage clearly shows Dao remaining calm until the moments of the violent altercation.

The video was uploaded to Twitter the same day, with the caption reading:

@United overbook #flight3411 and decided to force random passengers off the plane. Here’s how they did it:”

The video quickly went viral, gaining headlines in the mainstream news and being shared around the world. And people got angry.

United Airlines faced, and still faces, monetary consequences. It gave them a terrible image. Their stock experienced a massive drop, losing $570 million in market cap this week. They can also expect a lawsuit very soon from Dao’s lawyer.

All in all, it was a triumph for citizen journalism. Justice was served.

What would the situation have looked like if nobody had been able to take a personal video? Or easily share that video worldwide? The passengers on the plane were essentially cut off from the world, and couldn’t have protested that easily – and even if they had, the airline could’ve denied the events, or called it an overreaction (which they essentially did anyways).

People tend to believe authority figures in most situations, even if there is not compelling evidence one way or the other. It makes you wonder how many times this kind of thing has happened before, and simply was not caught on video.

But it was caught on video, and regardless of the bias of our mainstream media news sources, we could all agree on one thing: United Airlines is an awful company that doesn’t care one whit about its passengers and would rob its own grandmother if it thought the PR wouldn’t be too bad.

After all, there’s no bias if it’s a candid video taken by a bystander, right?

Well… not exactly. There is an unintentional bias here, and it comes to light in the issue of framing. This has been the constant struggle of citizen journalism; it presents a fact which may not necessarily be untrue, but provokes a wild, reactionary, sometimes unfair response. The truth is more accessible than ever, but there are always, always two sides to a story.

First of all, the idea that United Airlines overstepped their bounds when deciding to kick a passenger off the airline is a fallacy. It’s in the fine print when you buy your ticket. They do indeed have the right to involuntarily bump you for certain situations, including making space for their own employees. And it won’t help to take your business to Southwest, either – they do the exact same thing.

Then United should have planned better, you might decide. Again, it would be better to redirect your irritation elsewhere – maybe at nature, this time. Planning in the aviation world is a nightmare, and at any moment, a million and one things have the potential to go wrong and mess up the schedule: weather, maintenance, flight delays, and, again, weather.

But, aside from all of that, the real issue here isn’t that United removed a passenger from one of their flights against his will – it’s that they dragged a broken and bloodied man, who had no intention of being violent, away from his seat and down the aisle of their plane.

Here there is, admittedly, no excuse. Things were handled quite poorly when it came to the removal of the passenger, and there are a dozen other things that could’ve been done to gain the cooperation of this passenger, or any number of other passengers that might’ve taken his place.

However, once again, the anger of the people is misplaced. United Airlines never touched David Dao. In fact, by all accounts, the crew remained quite calm throughout the entire event. They merely followed protocol. A passenger refusing to comply to the demands of the crew ostensibly constitutes a security issue. And security issues, as we know, are taken very seriously when airplanes are involved.

My argument here is not meant to absolve United Airlines of wrongdoing, or to say that Dao is to blame for his own injuries. Nor am I even trying to argue, but rather, I want to lay out the facts.

There are a thousand ways this situation could have gone better, or could’ve been prevented in the first place. Maybe airlines should stop overbooking. Maybe federal regulations should not require crew members to ride. Maybe United Airlines should have leveled with their passengers and explained the situation better (i.e. “we need room for our own crew members so that hundreds of other flights don’t get delayed in a chain reaction”). Maybe they should have offered a larger monetary incentive. And certainly security should have handled the situation without the application of brutality.

People are within their rights to feel anger or confusion at events such as this. In the end, a peaceful man was violently assaulted, and in no world is that acceptable. But almost everybody has an opinion, and almost nobody has the full story. Anger has been misdirected or uninformed, and people suffer for it, both monetarily and in reputation.

Citizen journalism is decentralized and democratized reporting – it reports in ways mainstream media never could or would. In some ways, mainstream media even relies on it. But now more than ever, in this age of social media, we would do well to temper our reactions and view even the most straightforward-seeming events with a degree of skepticism, just as we should with other news outlets.

edited by Emma Hamburg

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