Local leaders question motive behind removing passenger from United flight

HOUSTON - Some leaders of Houston's Asian-American community are suggesting race may have played a part in the selection of which passengers were asked to de-board a United Airlines flight from Chicago to Louisville, Ky., Sunday night.

"This is outrageous," said Houston's Chinese-American Chamber of Commerce president Harry Sun. "This is not the United States."

"We need to speak out for our unfair treatment in this society," said Houston's International Management District chairman Wei Lee.

The group of local leaders questioned the methods behind United’s selection of passengers picked to vacate their seats in a news conference in the office of Houston-area Congressman Al Green on Tuesday.

Dr. David Dao, a China-born U.S. citizen refused to leave the plane when no other passengers would volunteer.

United says Dao was among four passengers selected by an IT system to de-board the plane in order to make space for United crew members who were needed on for a later outbound flight departing Louisville.

Dao’s refusal to leave escalated into a physical altercation in which airport police aggressively ripped Dao from his seat and dragged him off the plane.

Dao is being treated for his injuries at a Chicago-area hospital.

"We want to know what the process was,” Rep. Al Green said. “How does this random process work? We want to know what does it mean to be selected randomly."

But not until today has the selection process been revealed.

KHOU 11 News has been in contact with a spokeswoman with United who explained the IT system uses an algorithm  that takes into account passengers traveling with kids, those with disabilities as well as passengers with connecting flights.

She says that in no way was this incident racially motivated, but United takes responsibility nonetheless.

United CEO Oscar Munoz released a statement Tuesday:

“No one should ever be mistreated this way. I want you to know that we take full responsibility and we will work to make it right.   It's never too late to do the right thing. I have committed to our customers and our employees that we are going to fix what's broken so this never happens again.”

But will that be enough to re-attract those flyers who may be gone for good?

"United Air was my preferred travel,"  said Asian-American Real Estate Association president Dawn Ling. "But now, I couldn't fly them anymore."

© 2017 KHOU-TV


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