We now know that United Airlines reached a settlement Thursday with the passenger dragged off a flight earlier this month. The disheartening event is slowly becoming less and less of a story, with the CEO at United Airlines publishing new policies regarding overbooked customers. But we might still need to ask whether this was about race.
If you didn’t know, the passenger who was violently dragged off the airplane was a well-respected doctor. Many believe he was allegedly “chosen” to be taken off the flight because of his national origin as a Vietnamese-American. That’s something that needs to be addressed.
Dr. David Dao suffered numerous injuries and a severe concussion due to the airline police’s use of force. Immediately after the incident, public relations officials from United somewhat denied wrongdoing in the incident. Clearly, they did not expect the man’s prominent lawyer to file a lawsuit against them.
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The very nature of this incident is a violation of the United Airlines’ own Contract of Carriage. It is written explicitly that the procedures to deny passengers boarding involuntarily include considerations of “fare class, itinerary, status of frequent flyer program membership, and the time in which the passenger presents him/herself for check-in without advanced seat assignment.”
During interviews immediately after this incident, there were no signs or records showing that the staff followed this criteria, especially given that it was “a random selection” according to United CEO Oscar Munoz. United Airlines justified its actions by quoting another part of their contract regarding refusal of transport which allows the staff to disembark passengers. The criteria for passenger removal is arbitrary and frankly gives the staff unlimited powers to remove any passengers under any circumstances they see fit.
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After considering these contract provisions that United Airlines staff failed to comply with, it makes me wonder why Dao was chosen. Frankly, the evidence shows that Dao may have been selected because he was Asian.
This is a disturbing thought considering that thousands of international students at UW fly frequently with the airlines like United. Essentially, United Airlines signaled a societal change for people from racial minorities that there may be new challenges to their sovereign rights as consumers, as citizens and as human beings. That’s something that should worry us all.
Grace Li ([email protected]) is a freshman majoring in biomedical engineering.