With a concussion, broken nose and two missing teeth, Dr. David Dao — whose bloody face made global news after he was dragged off a United Express flight — is poised to become the poster child of an airline industry gone awry, his attorney said Thursday.
“I hope he becomes a poster child for all of us, someone’s got to,” lawyer Thomas Demetrio said at a news conference in the Loop, noting that Dao — who was discharged from a Chicago hospital on Wednesday — will need reconstructive surgery for damaged sinuses.
“Are we just going to continue to be treated like cattle?” the lawyer asked.
Demetrio said he has been deluged with “hundreds, of tales of woe, of mistreatment. . . . I have concluded the following: That for a long time, airlines — United in particular — have bullied us.”
“Will there be a lawsuit? Yeah, probably,” Demetrio added.
Dao’s daughter, Crystal Pepper, 33, and a Chicago-area resident, also spoke at the news conference, telling reporters: “It has been a very difficult time for our entire family, especially my dad.”
Her parents were returning to their home in Elizabethtown, Kentucky, after vacationing in California when the incident happened during a stopover at O’Hare on Sunday, she said.
Demetrio disputed a statement by United CEO Oscar Munoz in a television interview Wednesday that he’d reached out to Dao to apologize.
“I’m saying he misspoke,” Demetrio said.
In a statement issued Thursday after Demetrio’s news conference, United maintained its chief and others had tried to speak with Dao.
“United CEO Oscar Munoz and the company called Dr. Dao on numerous occasions to express our heartfelt and deepest apologies,” the airline said. “We continue to express our sincerest apology to Dr. Dao. We cannot stress enough that we remain steadfast in our commitment to make this right.
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“This horrible situation has provided a harsh learning experience from which we will take immediate, concrete action. We have committed to our customers and our employees that we are going to fix what’s broken so this never happens again.”
In the initial aftermath of the dragging incident, Munoz defended his employees before issuing a more contrite statement on Tuesday as public backlash mounted.
Munoz has promised a full internal review and to release the results by the end of April.
Demetrio wasn’t impressed.
“I thought it was staged,” Demetrio said.
Demetrio likened the Chicago Department of Aviation police officers who removed Dao from the United Express flight to “storm troopers.”
Dao had been asked, like three other passengers, to voluntarily give up his seat to make room for a flight crew. The officers were called when Dao refused.
The experience was more “horrifying” for Dao than leaving war-torn Vietnam on a boat back in 1975, Demetrio said.
Three of the officers involved have since been suspended.
Commenting on media reports of Dao’s 2004 fraud conviction involving prescription drugs, Demetrio said: “Did he have serious bumps in the road? Yeah, he’s 69 years old.”
But Dao’s past is “not relevant to what occurred last Sunday,” Demetrio said.
Dao, now in a “secure location,” plans to speak publicly when the time is right, Demetrio said.
As for when the doctor might return to Kentucky and how, Demetrio said his client “has no interest in ever seeing an airplane.”