Oversold, understated and authoritarian: debullshitifying the reporting on United's "removal" of Dr David Dao

As the scandal over a United passenger who was beaten unconscious and dragged off a plane when he refused to give up his seat for a deadheading crewmember unspools, there's a predictable torrent of bullshit about how United was in the right because something something private property, and let us not forget the great American sport of victim-blaming.

Media outlets large and small have consistently misreported key details of the story, following spin from United corporate communications. Yves Smith does us all the service of summing up some of the major areas of bullshit. Here's a few highlights:

* This was not an oversold plane. The plane was full, but it only became overfull when United decided that some of its crew needed to board, despite there being another flight an hour later they could have traveled on.

* Dao's bloody nose is the least alarming thing about his injuries. The guy was beaten unconscious. That carries a high risk of concussion and worse.

* Dao wasn't beaten up by Chicago Police, but by airport cops, who are not part of CPD; what's more, the airport cops' rolls include Richard Zuley, a dirty Chicago homicide detective who quit after a series of wrongful convictions, then worked as an "interrogator" at Guantanamo Bay, before boarding a plane in Chicago and beating a passenger unconscious.

It is telling, in not a good way, that Naked Capitalism reader Uahsenaa found a better discussion of the legal issues on Reddit than Lambert and I have yet to see in the media and the blogosphere (including from sites that profess to be knowledgeable about aviation):

Lawyer here. This myth that passengers don’t have rights needs to go away, ASAP. You are dead wrong when saying that United legally kicked him off the plane.

First of all, it’s airline spin to call this an overbooking. The statutory provision granting them the ability to deny boarding is about “OVERSALES”, specifically defines as booking more reserved confirmed seats than there are available. This is not what happened. They did not overbook the flight; they had a fully booked flight, and not only did everyone already have a reserved confirmed seat, they were all sitting in them. The law allowing them to denying boarding in the event of an oversale does not apply.

Even if it did apply, the law is unambiguously clear that airlines have to give preference to everyone with reserved confirmed seats when choosing to involuntarily deny boarding. They have to always choose the solution that will affect the least amount of reserved confirmed seats. This rule is straightforward, and United makes very clear in their own contract of carriage that employees of their own or of other carriers may be denied boarding without compensation because they do not have reserved confirmed seats. On its face, it’s clear that what they did was illegal– they gave preference to their employees over people who had reserved confirmed seats, in violation of 14 CFR 250.2a.

Furthermore, even if you try and twist this into a legal application of 250.2a and say that United had the right to deny him boarding in the event of an overbooking; they did NOT have the right to kick him off the plane. Their contract of carriage highlights there is a complete difference in rights after you’ve boarded and sat on the plane, and Rule 21 goes over the specific scenarios where you could get kicked off. NONE of them apply here. He did absolutely nothing wrong and shouldn’t have been targeted. He’s going to leave with a hefty settlement after this fiasco.

United Passenger “Removal”: A Reporting and Management Fail [Yves Smith/Naked Capitalism]

(Image: skinnylawyer, CC-BY-SA)

Notable Replies

  1. Wait, wait wait: next you'll be telling me that consumers...have rights!

  2. It's been interesting seeing the smear campaign against Dr. Dao, painting him as a drug fiend secretly living a gay lifestyle. All signs point to (a) United spreading rumors and (b) a completely separate person, also named David Dao, who they're doxxing for info.

    • This was not an oversold plane. The plane was full, but it only became overfull when United decided that some of its crew needed to board, despite there being another flight an hour later they could have traveled on.

    Right there is where United fucked up. They forgot the cardinal rule of business - the customer is #1. I mean really. The customer is #1. I understand the pragmatism of overbooking, but removing people because your crew needs a ride is just completely losing the fucking plot.

    • Dao's bloody nose is the least alarming thing about his injuries. The guy was beaten unconscious. That carries a high risk of concussion and worse.

    Was he actually beaten unconscious? Words have meaning. In the video I saw they grabbed him and he fell and was knocked unconscious. They didn't actually hit him. This is no way defends their actions of using force for removal, but "beaten unconscious" and "knocked unconscious while been forced from his seat" are two different things. The big difference is intent.

    Yep. Probably why they lacked the skills to remove someone from a seat with out hurting them. Maybe.

    OH sweet Jesus. You must have like that 1000 yard stare. The things you've seen... Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion.... C-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhäuser Gate.

    Didn't see anything on a gay lifestyle, but I did see an article posted about losing his license due to drug charges (possibly writing pill prescriptions). I was like, "So what? You do a crime and you lose all your rights? Shit. I've been nailed for speeding, no proof of insurance, and expired tags. I guess that makes it ok for SWAT to bust in now, right?"

  3. I looked at a couple of those stories and felt like I needed a shower; it's literally muckraking bullshit of the lowest order. The dude and his wife are both around 70, both doctors, both immigrants, and raised something like six kids (five of which are now also doctors) in America. Meeting a younger dude at a hotel for a beej? Go nuts, Doc, you earned it.

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