The Lingering Question Around the United Debacle— How Did Dr. Dao Get Back on the Plane?

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As a public relations person, it’s hard to imagine how United could have botched their response to crisis that hit last week when video of a United Express passenger being forcibly removed from a flight went viral and clogged our social media feeds.

Having police violently drag a paid customer from a flight that the airline had overbooked was a bad look. And it only got worse when United’s CEO tried to pretend no video existed of the incident and issued tone-deaf and disturbingly Orwellian statement apologizing only for having to “re-accommodate” some passengers.

(Of course, the best part may be the odd decision by someone within the Chicago Police Department to release a statement shortly after the story caught fire online expressing support for the forcible removal, referring to the customer being “belligerent” and suffering injuries only because “he fell”. The Chicago PD wasn’t even involved in this. It was the Chicago Aviation Police, a completely separate entity. Do elements within the Chicago PD now consider themselves experts on police abuse and brutality, willing to weigh in and offer their analysis on episodes of police violence now?)

But there is a lingering question I have yet to see answered and it raises even more trouble issues for United—how did a bloody and quite disoriented Dr. Dao manage to get back on the plane after his initial removal? Another video that went viral not long after the incident shows Dr. Dao, with blood and cuts around his mouth, jogging up the aisle of the plane, heading to the back, and saying, “I want to go home. I want to go home.”

How does a supposedly belligerent passenger, forcibly removed after airline officials called security, apparently because his seat was vitally needed, end up back on the plane?

Did the police officials bring him somewhere only to have a responsible adult look at them and ask, “What’s going on here? What did you do? Let him get back on the plane.”

Or did he manage to somehow elude police and make it back to the plane from wherever he was initially taken?

Other passengers on the plane were clearly upset about the way Dr. Dao was treated, crying out and making statements during his removal. Whose idea was it to let this clearly upset and injured man back on the plane to get fellow passengers worked up all over again?

And what does it say about security around this and other United flights?

This has been a mess for United and they deserve all the abuse that is being hurled at them now, if only because their decision to call security, let them cut loose, and then try to act like nothing untoward happened is disgraceful. But they need to take a long, hard look not only at the way they treat customers, but how this situation quickly unraveled and led to a series of God-awful decisions, not only on the flight, but in the corporate offices of United. They need a top-to-bottom evaluation of their decision-making processes.

Oh, and one more thing…according to the Daily Mail, United failed to properly return the luggage that Dr. Dao and his wife left on the plane. Nice to see United can handle both the epic fails and the run-of-the-mill screw-ups. They’ve got all the bases covered!

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