Dr. David Dao was hardly the first passenger forcibly dragged off a United flight by law enforcement. He wasn’t even the first Asian male dragged off. He wasn’t even the first Asian male whose dragging off of a United flight was caught on video.
A year and a half ago a man was dragged off of a Shanghai – Newark flight after trying to upgrade himself to business class several times and stealing champagne before returning to his coach seat.
Dr. Dao’s treatment became a truly focal moment for airlines, with worldwide coverage, because it seemed to people generally that he was being treated unfairly. He was already in his seat, and he was being bumped for crew. Those felt like they meant Dr. Dao was right to stand his ground. A self-upgrader doesn’t generate the same sympathy. To most people the issue isn’t being dragged off by law enforcement. (Perhaps if the man had handed out champagne to economy passengers he’d have been viewed as Robin Hood.)
Another self-upgrader was removed from United’s Shanghai – Newark flight yesterday.
[T]he man at the center of the controversy took a seat that was not assigned to him, then refused to move or comply with crew instructions.
After two hours, the man walked off the plane.
The flight left Shanghai about three hours late and had to stop in San Francisco to get a new crew.
United generally cares about passengers taking their assigned seat, and not an empty one, when they attempt to move to a more premium seat — such as economy plus extra legroom seats or business class. Regardless, the man was self-upgrading to a better seat than he was assigned. He may have just “wanted the seats next to him to be empty”.
The man, wearing a Donald Trump “Make America Great Again” hat, was apparently insisting that he was entitled because “he get all sorts of benefits like access to the [club lounge].”
Instead of calling law enforcement to physically remove the man, they “had to just clear the plane.”
“Everyone got off but him, and then about twenty minutes later he walked out with people escorting him. There was no violence whatsoever and United handled the situation very well.
As the man got off the plane — no handcuffs involved — other passengers shouted “lock him up”, both a reference to wanting him to suffer consequences for delaying the flight and to an oft-repeated line during Trump’s Presidential campaign.
The flight was indeed delayed, and ultimately diverted to San Francisco for a change of crew.
Some indeed feel that United’s reticence to drag passengers physically off of aircraft in the aftermath of the Dao incident means more delays, and that may well be true and could still be worth it. Police onboard response generally causes significant delays as well, far longer than just the time it takes for the physical removal.
We can theorize, of course, whether an older white male in a Make America Great Again hat is less likely to be dragged by law enforcement, or whether United’s post-Dao reaction is primarily the cause of the change since the last Newark – Shanghai self-upgrader removal.