'Disturbed' United Airlines boss sorry for forceful removal of passenger

Harriet Alexander
David Dao with his wife Teresa and one of their grandchildren

The Vietnamese-American doctor who was hauled off a United Airlines flight was convicted of soliciting gay sex in exchange for prescriptions, lost his medical licence, and then devoted himself to professional poker, it has been revealed.

David Dao, 69, made headlines worldwide when the footage of him being removed from the Kentucky-bound flight on Sunday went viral. Oscar Munoz, the CEO of the airline, has also been roundly criticised for an email supporting the staff as they acted to “re-accommodate” Dr Dao.

Even the White House was drawn into the furore, with Sean Spicer, the White House press secretary, describing the footage as "troubling".

Oscar Munoz, the United Airlines CEO, on Tuesday afternoon issued an apology for the treatment of the passenger, reversing earlier decisions not to apologise directly for the incident.

"I want you to know that we take full responsibility and we will work to make it right," Mr Munoz said in a statement.

“I continue to be disturbed by what happened on this flight,” he said, adding that he had ordered a review into policies.

“We are going to fix what’s broken so this never happens again.”

On Tuesday night, Dr Dao was was asked what his injuries were and said “everything", according to reports, adding that he was not doing well.

Earlier on Tuesday it emerged that Dr Dao, who practices medicine in Elizabethtown, Kentucky, had previous run-ins with the law.

The doctor came to the US as a refugee, having studied at a medical school in Vietnam before he was forced to flee. He finished his medical training in California before moving to Indiana in 1980.

There, he worked at a prison in Michigan City but quit after one year when an inmate reportedly tried to strangle him with his own stethoscope.

He moved to Kentucky, but in 2003 he was charged with a number of counts of illegally prescribing and trafficking prescription painkillers such as hydrocodone, Oxycontin and Percocet.

The criminal complaint in the case said that Dr Dao would solicit homosexual relations with a male patient, at a motel, in exchange for a prescription for hydrocodone. His medical licence was suspended and he was convicted in November 2004 on six counts and given a suspended sentence of two years, eight months in prison. He was ordered to pay a $5,000 fine.

While barred from practicing medicine, Dr Dao, a married father of five, turned to poker, TMZ reported, joining the circuit in July 2006. In 2009 he came second in a tournament, winning $117,000, and his total earnings reached over $230,000.

Dr Dao is yet to speak publicly about the incident.

But United Airlines is still reeling from the PR disaster, which saw a drop in its share price of 3.7 per cent in early trading on Wall Street – wiping $830 million of the airline’s market cap.

Mr Munoz, the CEO, appeared to compound the problem by defending the policy in an email to staff, describing Mr Dao as "disruptive and belligerent".

In the email, sent late on Monday night, Mr Munoz credited employees with following established procedures when the Louisville-bound flight was overbooked.

"This situation was unfortunately compounded when one of the passengers we politely asked to deplane refused and it became necessary to contact Chicago Aviation Security Officers to help," the letter says.

"While I deeply regret this situation arose, I also emphatically stand behind all of you, and I want to commend you for continuing to go above and beyond to ensure we fly right."

Chicago aviation officials placed a security officer on leave after the incident.

“The incident on United Flight 3411 was not in accordance with our standard operating procedure and the actions of the aviation security officer are obviously not condoned by the Department," the department said in a statement.

Before sending the staff email, Mr Munoz made a public apology – but was mocked for his description of the incident.

"I apologise for having to re-accommodate these customers,” he said. “Our team is moving with a sense of urgency to work with the authorities and conduct our own detailed review of what happened.

"We are also reaching out to this passenger to talk directly to him and further address and resolve this situation."

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