Here’s What the Police Say Really Happened to the Passenger Dragged Off the United Flight

Live and Let’s Fly points to the Associate Press‘s work uncovering documents related to the incident where a passenger was dragged off a United flight and bloodied by airport police officers. We now have the reports filed by police responding to the incident.

In the report, Long said he boarded the United Express flight after being called in response to a disturbance involving two people regarding a refusal to leave the aircraft. United has said four passengers had been ordered off the airplane to make room for four employees to fly to Louisville, Kentucky.

Long said he approached Dr. David Dao to ask the 69-year-old physician to get off the plane. Long said Dao refused and “folded his arms tightly.” Long said he reached out to “hold” Dao and was able to pull him away from his window seat on the aircraft and move toward the aisle.

“But suddenly the subject started flailing and fighting,” Long wrote.

Dao then knocked Long’s hand off his arm, causing the struggling Dao to fall and strike his mouth on an arm rest on the other side of the aisle, according to the report. Long said he then dragged Dao because Dao refused to stand up.

The officers claim to have reasonable with the passenger calmly over the course of several minutes. However he resisted, “flailing and fighting” and the officers lifted him from his seat. It’s only because Dr. Dao resisted, knocking officer Long’s hands away from him, that he fell against a seat and bloodied himself.

Dr. Dao ran back onto the aircraft when the officers stopped physically restraining him. After he was removed again and treated by medical personnel on the scene he was sent to the hospital.

Now, we’ve seen video showing Dr. Dao calmly reacting to police. And an officer states in his affidavit that he’s providing his version ‘under duress’ (fear of losing his job) and that the verbatim statement about what supposedly occurred “should not be considered a verbatim statement but only a summary” so the officer doesn’t want to be held to it.

Nonetheless, the important questions it seems to me are:

  • Why has calling the people in response to a customer service problem become United’s standard procedure?

  • Why are the police willing to act as United’s private security?

  • Why is violent removal considered an appropriate police escalation when a customer refuses to move? One alternative would be issuing a citation, allowing the legal process to enforce appropriate criminal penalties if indeed any are applicable.

United initially screwed up either by determining too late that crew must fly or failing to communicate the decision to the gate prior to boarding passengers. United called police instead of de-escalating the situation.

They could have deplaned the entire flight. They could have brought on someone else to deal with the customer when initial flight crew were unable to convince him to leave. They could have sought another volunteer when Dr. Dao was unwilling to get up. There are several strategies that could have been employed — regardless of whether they would ultimately have been successful, they weren’t tried, so we can’t know.

And ultimately the police dragged the passenger off the plane. The level of force seems inappropriate. Why do we accept such implausible narratives as ‘the passenger hit himself on the adjacent seat, bloodying himself?‘?

Finally we know that United’s initial deplorable statements on the incident appear to have simply taken the officers’ side of events despite viral videos readily available. That’s an entirely separate problem.

Here are the documents regarding the United incident uncovered by AP:

(HT: Live and Let’s Fly)

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

More articles by Gary Leff »


  1. “Why has calling the _people_ in response to a customer service problem”

    I think you meant to type “police” there.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *