United’s Unfriendly Skies: TWA (Traveling While Asian) is no joke
I’m never saying a bad thing about PAL again. Not after seeing what United did to that Asian American of Vietnamese descent.
Dr. David Dao is a 69-year-old who studied medicine in Vietnam in the ‘70s before coming to America as a pulmonologist in the Midwest.
He’s not much different from some UST doctors I know who now practice in the United States.
In fact, it could have easily been a Filipino randomly bumped off an overbooked flight.
Today, Dao’s holding all the cards as that dragged man with the screech heard round the world.
By now, you’ve surely seen that looping video, strung together from the good citizens with cell phone cameras who have learned that video doesn’t lie.
It loops on all your newsfeeds and on TV like a modern Zapruder film. Or a Rodney King video.
If you haven’t seen the video, then maybe you’ve heard it?
While the video shows Dao being forcibly removed from his seat on United Express Flight 3411, it’s the sound he makes that, for me, is the most alarming.
The pictures may lure your eyes, but the screech is what haunts and makes the video so much harder to watch.
Even when TV reporters talk over the looping video, the sound never goes away. Even when muted.
I can hear it as I type–it’s that shrieking cry of agony.
It sounded something like this: “AAKKKKKKK- AAKKKKKKKKK”
Anyone who has experienced a transgression of any kind–racial, sexual, personal–has heard it.
Or maybe you’ve made the same sound yourself.
And that’s the takeaway for me. If you’re a Filipino in America, we know the sound well ourselves. Especially when I first saw identifying image: Dao’s bloodied Asian American face.
United’s CEO Oscar Munoz at first told his employees in a memo that Dao was “disruptive and belligerent.”
But on Wednesday, yet another passenger with a cell phone had her camera rolling and unveiled yet another video before the dragging. It showed Dao being anything but “disruptive and belligerent.”
Dao was simply a man with an Asian accent who was making his case. He was a doctor with patients to see the next day. “I am not going,” Dao said on the tape. “You can drag me down, I won’t go. I’m staying right here.”
And then amazingly the Chicago Aviation security guards began to physically grab Dao and drag him like he was a baby pig in coach.
And Dao had the shrieking sounds to match.
Pardon my spelling, but it’s the same in any language.
Right then and there, United declared war on the American consumer.
The internet was unforgiving. But the corporate media seemed willing to help out United. The Louisville Courier-Journal provided the “attack the victim, he’s no saint” defense. The paper reported that Dao, an immigrant who went to medical school in Vietnam in the ’70s and worked in a Louisville-area hospital, had been convicted 14 years ago for prescription drug related offenses after an undercover investigation. He was placed on probation in 2005 and allowed to resume practice in 2015.
And that’s where life found him Sunday night. A rehabilitated doctor eager to get home to do his job.
Of course, Dao’s past has absolutely no relevance to the present.
The relevant facts are that Dao was on an overbooked flight and was “bumpable.” He was entitled to up to $1,350 in compensation.
That’s all in the standardized airline ticket/contract in the fine print no one ever reads.
Still, Dao wasn’t entitled to the physical abuse meted out by airport police, who indelicately pulled him out of his seat and dragged him through the aisle.
To me, it looked like police dragging off a protester at an act of civil disobedience.
Then there was Dao’s loud shriek, his painful cry for help. Or an alarm to all consumers?
On Twitter, I wondered if Dao would have been treated differently if he were white?
Would he have been allowed to walk off with dignity? Or did the Chicago aviation security officers bully him and use force because they saw him as a slight, older Asian male, who could be taken out with force?
I have no doubt that it would have been worse if he were African American or Latino, or even South Asian or Muslim.
I also tweeted that maybe a competing airline would start a “No drag, leave with dignity” bump fee.
But that’s just me thinking that customer service still counts in our corporate-infested, money-first society.
It took three days after the Sunday night event for United to realize that old saw, “The customer is always right,” still matters.
Munoz first issued a statement apologizing. But came back in an exclusive interview expressing remorse, and how it would never happen again. “I want you to know that we take full responsibility and we will work to make it right,” said Munoz.
On the sincerity meter, it didn’t do much for me.
Meanwhile, Dao is in a Chicago hospital and told a Louisville TV station he was not well. And his lawyers, a big time personal injury firm that has negotiated settlements worth more than a billion dollars, were filing discovery papers in county court for the evidence it needs for a potential trial against the City of Chicago and United.
Some people think this will all go away. But I don’t think so. Dao will cost United millions just to settle.
The biggest cost will be how to win the public trust in the PR battle.
Even though I’m in San Francisco, one of United’s top hubs, I have successfully avoided the airline since its Continental merger and will continue to do so. No need for boycott. Southwest, Delta, American are all good options.
If United wants my business they can buy my loyalty. United lost $255 million in stock value after day one of Drag-gate. United can afford it. I’m not even asking Munoz to be penitent on Good Friday. I just want to bleed his market cap a little more.
It’s a simple solution. United has got to give more back for shocking the hell out of the flying public. Nothing less than coupons for free flights for a period of time will help drown out that “AAAAAAKK-AAAAAAAKKK” shriek that keeps ringing in my ears.
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