Man in Make America Great Again Hat Removed From United Flight for Self-Upgrading

Dr. David Dao was hardly the first passenger forcibly dragged off a United flight by law enforcement. He wasn’t even the first Asian male dragged off. He wasn’t even the first Asian male whose dragging off of a United flight was caught on video.

A year and a half ago a man was dragged off of a Shanghai – Newark flight after trying to upgrade himself to business class several times and stealing champagne before returning to his coach seat.

Dr. Dao’s treatment became a truly focal moment for airlines, with worldwide coverage, because it seemed to people generally that he was being treated unfairly. He was already in his seat, and he was being bumped for crew. Those felt like they meant Dr. Dao was right to stand his ground. A self-upgrader doesn’t generate the same sympathy. To most people the issue isn’t being dragged off by law enforcement. (Perhaps if the man had handed out champagne to economy passengers he’d have been viewed as Robin Hood.)

Another self-upgrader was removed from United’s Shanghai – Newark flight yesterday.

[T]he man at the center of the controversy took a seat that was not assigned to him, then refused to move or comply with crew instructions.

After two hours, the man walked off the plane.

The flight left Shanghai about three hours late and had to stop in San Francisco to get a new crew.

United generally cares about passengers taking their assigned seat, and not an empty one, when they attempt to move to a more premium seat — such as economy plus extra legroom seats or business class. Regardless, the man was self-upgrading to a better seat than he was assigned. He may have just “wanted the seats next to him to be empty”.

The man, wearing a Donald Trump “Make America Great Again” hat, was apparently insisting that he was entitled because “he get all sorts of benefits like access to the [club lounge].”

Instead of calling law enforcement to physically remove the man, they “had to just clear the plane.”

“Everyone got off but him, and then about twenty minutes later he walked out with people escorting him. There was no violence whatsoever and United handled the situation very well.

As the man got off the plane — no handcuffs involved — other passengers shouted “lock him up”, both a reference to wanting him to suffer consequences for delaying the flight and to an oft-repeated line during Trump’s Presidential campaign.

The flight was indeed delayed, and ultimately diverted to San Francisco for a change of crew.

Some indeed feel that United’s reticence to drag passengers physically off of aircraft in the aftermath of the Dao incident means more delays, and that may well be true and could still be worth it. Police onboard response generally causes significant delays as well, far longer than just the time it takes for the physical removal.

We can theorize, of course, whether an older white male in a Make America Great Again hat is less likely to be dragged by law enforcement, or whether United’s post-Dao reaction is primarily the cause of the change since the last Newark – Shanghai self-upgrader removal.

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 »

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  1. Adding politics and racism without relevant facts. Fan the flames. Shame on you.

  2. “We can theorize, of course, whether an older white male in a Make America Great Again hat is less likely to be dragged by law enforcement, or whether United’s post-Dao reaction is primarily the cause of the change since the last Newark – Shanghai self-upgrader removal.”

    Or we can theorize that Chinese officials may not be as willing as US police to enforce flight attendant instructions.

  3. @Mallthus so the Chinese officials aren’t willing to enforce local laws against theft/stealing? Last time I priced a flight, the airline sells different class and seat types. Anyone “self-upgrading” to these seats without paying is engaging in criminal behavior. This isn’t simply “ignoring” crew member instructions. If the Chinese officials refused to help, United needs to take this up through diplomatic channels.

  4. What’s the hat got to do with any of this? If he was wearing Nikes or an 80’s open neck shirt with gold chains would THAT be part of the story?

  5. I love it! “Lock him up!” He deserves that for wearing a MAGA hat as he exits after making the entire plane wait for him. Selfish.

  6. @ A: Diplomatic channels? Does it hurt when you think? Assuming authorities in every country mirror the only one you actually may know anything about borders on moronic.

    Police in China in general are less prone to use force over non-violent offenses. They don’t even carry guns 9.9 times out of 10.

  7. Really disappointed that you decided to bring politics into this. I don’t support Trump or Hillary, or pretty much any politician. Why does what he is wearing have anything to do with the fact that he was stealing? I can only assume the reason you made this for the title was to get more clicks? Kinda disappointed in this one Gary. The last thing I want to read about in the miles/points world is politics.

  8. Headline should have been “United foils would-be lawsuit by cunning wanna-be Dao”

    Poor old fart. At least he’ll have a story to tell his rich ahole friends at the next Trump supporters gathering.

  9. The hat’s relationship to the story is called irony, it’s only political if you perceive it to be.

  10. @ Rob: If Gary needs to theorize about whether reactions to a Trump campaign hat were an issue in CHINA, I’d say he has IQ problems. It’s unlikely authorities in China are influenced by a Trump hat. 😉

    Yes, Gary, China. Check out your map.

  11. It seems the Chinese handled the removal of our countryman with a lot more dignity than was afforded to Dr. Dao by the police here. Maybe everyone is learning how to better handle these situations. I wish people wouldn’t embarrass our country by wearing that sort of ugly American hat overseas.

  12. The connection to the MAGA hat is the chanting of “Lock him up” afterwards.

  13. Wearing Nikes or an open neck 80s shirt isn’t a political statement. Wearing a MAGA hat is. And the hat explains the crowd’s chants.

    It’s not like the article was “typical Trump supporter…trying to get something for free.” That would have made this post about politics (and have been a cheap shot).

  14. “Adding politics and racism without relevant facts. Fan the flames. Shame on you.”

    Agreed. Come on, Gary! You’re so much better than that!

  15. @ J.C. – Yes, if United is not receiving the level of protection that is customary to carriers then they need to engage with Chinese and U.S. officials. That is assuming that Chinese officials were even notified of the incident and if so, that they refused to remove this character from the plane.

    Removing someone from a flight has nothing to do with what type of weapon Chinese police officers carry. There is no connection between the two. Yes, I’ve been to China countless times and lived in Asia. Good luck with your life, troll.

  16. Reporting facts relevant to the situation is accurate.

    Politics or not, white-privileged men in MAGA hats are making asses out of themselves world-wide.

  17. Disappointing decision here, Gary. The guy’s hat has nothing to do with his attempted thievery.

  18. Come on, Gary…… what does the hat have anything to do with the story?? Reply to this or you are avoiding the question. Just jumping on the politics train for clicks. You’re better than that, or at least used to be.

  19. After the Dr. Dao incident, United did say they will not use force to remove passengers from aircraft.

  20. Not sure why people are confused about the relevance of the man’s hat to this story.

    Other passengers chanted ‘lock him up’ which is a clear reference to the hat.

  21. It took too long to get to the punch line: “lock him up.” I actually thought that was funny, once I got to it.

    It’s final paragraph that really bugs me.

  22. Was this General Flynn? Someone needs to tell him that “taking the fifth” does not mean sitting in row 5.

  23. I’ll assume that you’ll be reporting the fashion choices of every person that you write about from this point?

  24. The passenger was wrong and, as a result, an entire plane full of people were unnecessarily detained. His behavior was selfish.

  25. @ A-hole: Congratulations on confirming that English teachers throughout Asia aren’t particularly bright and justify the low opinions people have of them.

    You can armchair quarterback all you want, but the simple fact is that even if United asked authorities to intervene they are not about to inflict violence on an otherwise non-violent senior citizen — especially an expat. Your whiny little b!tch tactics might have worked in your GED classes, but United crying to the US Embassy because police use proper discretion is laughable.

    Stick with something you have a reasonable chance of success at such as precisely pouring milk over a bowl of cold cereal. It’s infinitely more complex than your “Welcome to Walmart!” spiel 8 hours per day, but with practice you might get it.

  26. Problem with this kind of theorizing is people tend write you off as a mental lightweight, and who can blame them? Next time around they may wash their hair or run a couple heads of cauliflower through the ol’ Vego-O-Matic instead of clicking on the blog again.

  27. @ Gary: No need to invent stories. Listen closely and there’s one or two people at most yelling “Lock him up!”

  28. Haha nice one Gary. I came here to watch the Trump snowflakes melt and I was not disappointed.

    Even after you explained it they still couldn’t understand hahaha.

  29. Please; I beg you! No more “off of.” It’s either “off” or “from.” Thanks

  30. LOVE that people were shouting “Lock him up!” That’s fabulous if true.

    But this poor Trump snowflake was going to melt unless he got a better seat? Awww.

    I don’t feel the least bit sorry for him.

  31. ITT butthurt white males denying white privilege. You guys are the real snowflakes.

  32. “Lock him up” and the MAGA hat.
    So I did some goggling and I get the connection so… never mind. I see why it was included.
    Whoever thought to start that was pretty quick and creative.

  33. @J.C. – You are an inventive one. I’m not an “English teacher” living in Asia. Though, it does sound fun, if I was 22 living in Thailand.

    You are an internet troll and from the sounds of it a terribly miserable person. Until you grow up you should work for Trump’s administration. From the gist of the conversation you two would make great buddies and continue to embarrass yourself daily.

  34. Good going Gary and yes the hat says it all. Trump supporters learn from their leader. Lie, deceive, discriminate, huff and puff and treat everyone else like garbage. Trump’s world of white supremacy.

  35. “We can theorize, of course, whether an older white male in a Make America Great Again hat is less likely to be dragged by law enforcement”

    I’d argue it makes it more likely. As has been proven with Dao, and the woman who felt she was being targeted for a seat downgrade because she was Black – those become big stories. You wouldn’t take quite as much offense to an older white male being targeted – so the airlines wouldn’t have the fear of backlash.

  36. I cant stand Trump, but I don’t come here to read politically tinged articles. Your feelings about trump are obvious but i really dont care to have them shoved down my throat. Without a doubt united did not use force because of the pr storm it would create and im sure the chinese authorities were reluctant to get involved with a guy on an American plane who is about to leave their country. If the allegations are true he should have been arrested. This was in no way similar to the dao situation. This was theft since he didn’t pay for that seat. I wonder if he has mental issues though.

  37. I learned from these comments that there are still a lot of people out there who don’t know what snowflakes are. I don’t think it means what you think it means, lol.

  38. FYI: “Snowflakes” are short term winter visitors to sunny climates like FL or AZ.

    “Snowbirds” are long term winter visitors, often owning their seasonal residence.

    Somehow people started trying to use the term politically as if it was an insult, without even knowing what it meant.

  39. Well you got a bunch of comments. Congrats. The real problem is that the flight crew couldn’t work a few extra hours and had to divert but we are side tracked with politics.

  40. Gary, keep up the good work. Thanks for always remembering we’re not here for a long time. We’re here for a good time. Let the good times roll.

  41. “Those FELT like they meant dr dao was right..”. Oh dear ,Gary, why is it impossible for you to agree that Dr Dao was right and your beloved United was wrong?
    Youve been proven wrong on that so many times. Are you indulging in Trumpian logic, ie, repeat the lie till it becomes the truth?
    Tsk tsk

  42. @747always first, it’s far more complicated than that, but second you’re missing the point. Here I’m writing about the shared moral sense (what people ‘felt’) and how that differs in this case. You’re reading a meaning into this writing that isn’t actually there.

  43. It’s not theft, because the man did not get the seat. It’s also not theft, because United has a clause in the contract to cover it- Rule 26C-

    “Fare Applicable to Upgrading Class of Service While in Flight

    When a Passenger moves from one compartment to another compartment of a combination compartment aircraft while in flight, an additional collection will be made in an amount equal to the difference between:

    The one-way fare from Passenger’s point of origin on such flight to the last scheduled stop prior to the Passenger’s change in compartment, applicable to the class of service used, plus the one-way fare from such stop to the Passenger’s destination on such flight, applicable to transportation in the compartment to which the Passenger is moving, and

    The fare paid for transportation from the Passenger’s origin to destination on such flight. ”

    I don’t understand another big scene over someone self upgrading again, nor any need to drag him off the flight. Simply inform him that, if he does not vacate his seat, he will be charged the difference between the economy and business class fares, have a reservation agent calculate the difference and present him the bill. If he decides not to pay, then it’s theft, and have the police meet the plane upon landing in the USA.

    9 times out of 10, the passenger voluntarily downgrades once he sees the bill and sees you are serious. Even if he doesn’t, and the local police on landing decline to enforce the contract, it’s still cheaper than a 3 hour delay with a second crew. It’s the sensible solution, but doesn’t let people get all huffy about rights and red hats…

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