David Dao said he went into hiding and was placed on suicide watch after he was dragged off a United Airlines flight for refusing to give up his seat in 2017
It’s been two years since a Kentucky doctor was violently dragged off a United Airlines flight in an incident that quickly went viral and made headlines for weeks. Now, the doctor is speaking about the ordeal, revealing the toll it took on his life.
On April 9, 2017, David Dao was asked to leave an oversold Louisville-bound flight from Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport so airline employees could board the plane. Having paid for his ticket, Dao refused. The altercation saw Dao bloodied and bruised as officers with the Chicago Department of Aviation dragged him through the aisle of the aircraft.
Footage of the incident sparked national outrage and went viral on social media. Dao said he found the video difficult to watch even months after the assault.
“I just cried,” Dao told ABC News of the footage, adding that he doesn’t remember the moments he was pulled from his seat because he hit his head on the low ceiling. “After that, to be honest, I don’t know what happened.”
Doa told ABC that he refused to give up his seat because he was heading back to Louisville to oversee the opening of a clinic for U.S. veterans. Dao, who is Vietnamese, added that he felt he was being discriminated against. He suffered a concussion, a broken nose and two missing teeth, he told ABC, noting that the situation escalated “very fast.”
Dao said he struggled to deal with the attention in the wake of the ordeal, as details of his personal life surfaced in media reports.
“Get to the point, I have to hide,” he told ABC, adding that he spent most of his time indoors after the incident. “I can’t. No. I stay for months. Months in the house.”
Dao and the airline eventually reached a confidential settlement, which Dao’s lawyers said was “amicable.”
He said that the first few months after the assault were “horrible, as he was put on suicide watch by hospital staff and spent months learning to walk again. As the media storm continued, United Airlines CEO Oscar Munoz apologized to Dao in an interview with ABC.
“That is not who our family at United is. You saw us at a bad moment,” Munoz said. “This can never, will never happen again on a United Airlines flight … that’s my promise.”
Months later, it was revealed that United Airlines would not be fined by the Department of Transportation for the assault. Now, he told ABC, Dao still has trouble sleeping, concentrating and maintaining his balance. Still, he said, the ordeal had an ultimately “positive” outcome.
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“Everything happens with a reason … Airline business willing to change policy,” he said.
He told ABC that he is not angry with the officials who dragged him from the plane: “They have a job to do. They had to do it. If they don’t do it, they must lose their job. So, I’m not angry with them or anything like this. That’s their job.”
In a statement to PEOPLE, airline spokesman Charles Hobart described the incident as a “defining moment” for the company.
“It is our responsibility to make sure we as a company and all of our 90,000 employees continue to learn from that experience. The changes we have implemented since that incident better serve our customers and further empower our employees,” the spokesman said.
“This year, we are focused more than ever on our commitment to our customers, looking at every aspect of our business to ensure that we keep their best interests at the center of everything that we do,” the statement continued. “As our CEO Oscar Munoz has said, we at United never want anyone in the United family to forget the experience of Flight 3411. It makes us a better airline, a more caring company and a stronger team.”
If you or someone you know is considering suicide, please contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255), text “home” to the Crisis Text Line at 741-741 or go to suicidepreventionlifeline.org.