UA 3411: victim blaming and the elephant in the room

United Airlines UA 3411 | Maple and Marigold

United Airlines UA 3411 | Maple and MarigoldA few days ago a man was dragged through the hallways of an airplane. His high-pitched cries, “I just want to go home,” are still echoing in my head. 

Full details of the entire sequence of events that took place on board flight UA 3411 available here.  

Here’s the gist: 4 UA staff had to be accommodated at the last minute on a flight that was already full with paying passengers. The United flight crew asked passengers if they would like to volunteer to be offloaded in exchange for vouchers for future travel. No hands were raised. That’s when a computer algorithm was run and 4 passengers were “volunteered” to free up their seats. Three people finally agreed. The fourth declined.

Instead of moving down the list the UA crew decided to call in the big guns – aviation police. The police did what they do best. They used brute force to haul a paying passenger down the hallways of the airplane. 

The world is in uproar. While these events are not comedic at all, if you’d like a good laugh search under #NewUnitedAirlinesMottos and gems like this one from @ZKNMan wll pop up. 

United Airlines UA 3411 | Slogan courtesy @ZKNman

What has my blood boiling though are the “voices of reason” that have popped up to say that the UA staff were following the law. So why is there an international outcry?

Let’s address the “voices of reason” one by one:

The passenger was selected randomly. I have been randomly selected a number of times. I have never been able to accept the airline’s offer of offloading. And I don’t remember being dragged through an airplane bumping along seats as if I were a duffle bag. Even with my god-awful memory I think I would remember that.

The doctor’s past seems to be sketchy – he deserved it. Did the UA staff do a background check as they were waiting for the computer to “randomly select” their candidates? There is no evidence that they did. If it did not factor into the events as they transpired, it does not matter. This victim shaming and blaming has to STOP! 

It was an automatic selection, and computers can’t be racist. There’s no disputing that. But human beings are flawed as we know. The decision to not move down the list and pick someone else even though the passenger has clearly said that he has commitments to keep the following day, that smacks of laziness at best……and racism at worst.

The police asked him to do something. Why didn’t he just do it. Admittedly Dr Dao’s reaction wasn’t as rational as it could have been. But he thought he had done everything right. He needed to get to Louisville, KY and he bought a ticket. He thought he had rights. After being unjustly treated and manhandled, with a bleeding face he runs down the airplane because as he says, “I just want to go home.”

There is no justification for this situation to devolve into an assault. 

The plane was full. The airline needed to accommodate it’s late-arriving staff.  The UA 3411 staff chose what they considered would be the easiest course of action: offload paying passengers. Dr Dao did not want to be offloaded. Instead of looking for alternatives, United Airlines staff decided to exercise the fullest extent of the law.

After all – how dare this old Asian man say NO!

Puneeta Chhitwal-Varma<br/><small>Photo by Tanvi Madkaiker</small>
Puneeta Chhitwal-Varma
Photo by Tanvi Madkaiker

About Puneeta

Author, Educator, Speaker

Puneeta is a writer, food advocate and guide for those who seek earth-friendly, delicious solutions that work for real life.


  • This was a good, necessary blog and what brought me to your site. Between this and your other united entry I expected to find Mapleandmarigold was a hard-hitting news site, and was surprised to find it concerned mainly the art of living. Maybe you should free your hand to more social justice pieces.

    • Hi Steve, thanks so much for your feedback. My writing focuses on ways to make all our lives happy, healthy and enjoyable. None of this would work if we stay quiet in the face of injustice and inequality. I’m so glad you ended up on my blog and look forward to seeing you here again.
      Best, Puneeta

      • I’m struggling with something tonight – maybe you’ll have some insight. Since the United event I’ve been glued to the story daily, absorbing every idea out there on the issue. It seems to resonate with me deeply…but should it? Relatively speaking, should this be the topic that grabs hold of my attention with such ferocity? Where was this level of outrage in the face of chemical attacks and other atrocities around the world? I hate that those outrageous events are happening, but it wasn’t until United that I subscribed to twitter so I could contribute to the conversation.

        I saw a funny video once satiring “first world problems”: having to make multiple trips with groceries, smartphones that are too thick, and so on. Am I a jerk for being passionate on this topic when others are objectively worse?

        • Hi Steve, sorry I took a while to get back to you. I had to think this one through a bit.
          I feel strongly about a lot of things – human courtesy for one, equality for another and then there’s tardy people who show up late for everything. The last one doesn’t seem that important in the big picture but still gets my blood boiling.
          I think speaking up and acting when you see an injustice is always a good thing even when the issue may seem small to some.
          My one caveat though that I’ve learnt since I became a mother – pick your battles!


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