Two years after viral videos showing airport police officers violently dragging him from a United Airlines flight sparked outrage, David Dao spoke out publicly for the first time on Tuesday, expressing forgiveness for the airline and satisfaction that the incident led to policy changes.
Dao, a Kentucky physician who was manhandled off the plane after the airline said the flight was overbooked, said in an interview with ABC’s “Good Morning America” he spent months recovering from a concussion, broken nose and two broken teeth, and had to relearn how to walk. He was on suicide watch for a time in the hospital, he said.
Still, he said he has forgiven United Airlines and the police officers who dragged him off of the plane.
“I’m not angry with them. They have a job to do. They had to do it,” Dao said.
He said he was pleased that the airline reevaluated when to get police involved in disputes with customers.
“The most important thing is the accident turned out the positive way,” he said.
Dao was aboard an April 9, 2017, flight from Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport to Louisville, Kentucky, when United employees said the flight was overbooked and summoned police to force Dao off the plane. Videos of a screaming Dao, surrounded by horrified fellow passengers, quickly went viral.
Dao, an immigrant from Vietnam, said that he had been flying back to Kentucky to oversee the opening of a clinic he founded for military veterans as a way to thank them for helping him get to the United States during the Vietnam War.
He said Tuesday that he has no memory of being dragged from the plane and “just cried” when he watched one of the videos months later.
United Airlines CEO Oscar Munoz sparked further outrage when he blamed Dao for the incident, calling his customer “disruptive and belligerent” despite a fellow passenger’s video that showed Dao calmly reasoning with airline attendants.
“I’m a physician and I have to work tomorrow at 8 o’clock,” Dao said in the footage.
Munoz then issued a tone-deaf apology “for having to re-accommodate these customers” who were asked to rebook. The airline later admitted that Dao’s flight technically had not been overbooked, but needed seats for flight personnel.
Munoz eventually apologized with greater sincerity, and the airline said it would no longer involve law enforcement in incidents “except in matters of safety and security.” Chicago aviation officials fired two officers and suspended two others for excessive use of force and for omitting information from their initial report on the incident.
Weeks later, Dao reached what his lawyer said was an “amicable” settlement with the airline.
United said in a statement responding to Dao’s interview that the incident “was a defining moment,” and the company will “continue to learn from that experience.”