The video of an Asian man being dragged off a United Airlines flight became the top trending story in China over accusations of racism.
David Dao was pulled off a Sunday evening flight from Chicago to Louisville, Ky., when he refused to give up his seat after United overbooked the flight. Dao, a physician, was randomly selected by a computer; after he refused to relinquish his seat, three security officers dragged him off the plane.
According to Bloomberg, the trending topic #UnitedForcesPassengerOffPlane was the top trending topic on the Chinese social media service Weibo, with more than 270 million views. Multiple Chinese outlets reported on the story, including the Global Times, which had an editorial on the matter. Petitions to boycott the airline circulated on the messaging service WeChat.
CCTV, the state broadcaster, showed photos of the passenger’s bloodied face above the word, “Savage!” People’s Daily, the ruling Communist Party’s flagship newspaper, scolded United for failing to condemn the man’s treatment.
Compounding the problem was the reaction of United CEO Oscar Munoz. Munoz’s initial statement said he apologized “for having to re-accommodate these customers,” with an email to employees Monday night stating that Dao was “belligerent.” A spokesperson for the Chicago Department of Aviation told Yahoo News that the incident “was not in accordance with our standard operating procedure, and the actions of the aviation security officer are obviously not condoned by the department. That officer has been placed on leave effective today pending a thorough review of the situation.” The Chicago Police Department’s statement on the incident said the man “fell” into an armrest and injured himself.
The backlash and talk of boycotts from China is potentially troublesome for United, whose website states that the company “operates more nonstop U.S.-China flights, and to more cities in China, than any other airline.” United stock was down 3 percent on Tuesday, approximately $900 million of its market cap.
Dao went to medical school in Vietnam before moving to the United States and establishing a practice in Elizabethtown, Ky.