Dragged from a United Flight; A Christian Response

By this time we have all seen the videos and pictures of the man being drug off a United Airlines flight against his will. The pictures are terrible, and the video is horrifying. We immediately see such an over-reach of authority, and I’m sure each of us has created a mental list of this man’s rights that have been violated in the process. As Christians, generally we abhor violence. There is, and will always be discussions on the biblical merits of war, self-defense etc, but for the most part, I think we can all agree that violence for violence’s sake, when other methods are available, is not the answer. It should always be a last resort.

Reaction to this scene has been harsh. The internet via social media has taken this to the extreme. Memes of all sorts are floating about, some meant to be humorous, some deliberately mean and hateful. And what do we expect? In the face of what seems like such a barbaric act of over-escalation on the part of United airlines and the Chicago Transit Police, how can anyone expect a kind, loving reaction? United Airlines now faces a public relations nightmare of a problem, will be sued by the passenger (confirmed by the passenger’s attorney today), and the customer base is generally furious.

So, in review: Man buys a ticket for a flight. Flight end up being overbooked to accommodate another flight crew. United asks for volunteers to take an alternative flight. No one volunteers. United is forced to choose a passenger to disembark randomly. Man is chosen, and eventually forcefully removed – resulting in what we have seen on the news and in social media for the last few days.

So, the question is, how should we really feel about this as Christians? More importantly, how should we react to this as Christians? Let’s examine this from a perspective given to us by God’s Word, and use that thing we are always being taught about in Church called “practical application”.

I’m going to offer three things that are perhaps the most often repeated and most important factors when studying the bible. We will then take those factors and apply them to this situation and see how we might best react to this situation in a proper manner.

  • Observation
  • Interpretation
  • Application

Observation: I’m a trained Journalist. I am in fact a published author and have had pieces published in variety of fields in periodicals, books, newspapers, and have worked as an expert witness for legal defenses. I say this not to boast, but to add some relevant credibility to what follows. For the most part, journalists in the pure sense, no longer exist in the current media marketplace. Most of the people the Gen-X’ers and Millennials would associate as journalists are not journalists at all, but rather broadcasters, pundits or talk show hosts. I watch and listen to a great deal of conservative media shows and one thing I have to give the very popular nationalist Sean Hannity, is that he is constantly reminding his listeners that he is not a journalist.

Much of what we see in the formation and foundation of our government is biblically based. So too are the methods of journalism that I, and old-school journalists have been taught. When I was studying journalism in high school, my teacher Mrs. Margaret King (God rest her West Virginian soul…) taught us all that if we did not have three independent sources for news we were going to present in the High School newspaper, it would never see print. Speculation is for editorialists, not journalists. And she meant it. God tells us not to even entertain a complaint against another without two or three witnesses (I Timothy 5:19). Sadly, Gen-X’ers and Millennials see Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and other 24-hour social media outlets as news sources – none of which are actually news resources, and the articles shared there, in many cases, have simply no basis in fact. They do not have two or three witnesses, and certainly do not have three published resources to support their assertions. Today’s society does not look for journalistic integrity, they look for headlines. Headline, regardless of their salaciousness. Headlines have become fact, and these ‘facts’ then become the truth which uncaring social media readers pass on – and defend.

In bible study, observation is most frequently referred to as “context”.

In bible study, it is a necessity to know the context of the event or passage being studied. What language was it written in? WHAT audience was it intended for? What are the circumstances that lead up to and follow this event? When considering a piece of scripture, it is a good idea to read at least 20-25 verses both before and after the passage being considered. For me, I like to read at least a full chapter before and after. This practice alone very often changes the understanding of what is being studied and always goes a long way towards building the foundation for right understanding. Jesus Himself remarked to us in the Sermon on the Mount teaching (Matthew 5:41)that if someone demands we walk a mile with them that we should go two miles. Not only does this set the precedent for making sure we understand the context of the issue at hand, but He also makes sure we understand that we need to go out of our way, the “extra mile” so to speak – to gain that context. As it has often been shared, context is EVERYTHING.

So when we look at this situation of the man being drug off the United flight, what do we really know? What is the context? Let’s examine.

For 99% of the people who have already formed an opinion on the issue, all they know is the video that they have seen and its apparent harshness. A man being drug off a plane is violent and unforgivable, right? Well, what is the context? Have we observed enough to be able to BEGIN for create an informed opinion? If all you have seen is the videos and a few stills of the event, the emphatic answer is NO – you have no context whatsoever. Therefore any conclusion you draw will not only likely be wrong, it will with 100% certainty – be based on incomplete information. Therefore, if you are a Christian and looking at this situation, and all you have seen is the video and social media shorts and comments – HOLD YOUR TONGUE. You have no moral or biblical right to comment at this time – unless you want to act foolishly that is. There is free-will after all.

The context – had you taken the time and studied it, would have revealed much.  As an example. Regardless of how you feel about the airline industry and the ever shrinking list of competition, how they have too much authority, how the passengers do not have enough authority/control etc., there are laws at play here. Keep in mind that God has commanded us to follow the laws of the land. Romans 13:1-5

Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except by God’s appointment, and the authorities that exist have been instituted by God. So the person who resists such authority resists the ordinance of God, and those who resist will incur judgment (for rulers cause no fear for good conduct but for bad). Do you desire not to fear authority? Do good and you will receive its commendation, for it is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be in fear, for it does not bear the sword in vain. It is God’s servant to administer retribution on the wrongdoer. Therefore it is necessary to be in subjection, not only because of the wrath of the authorities but also because of your conscience.

Had you considered the law in this circumstance? You should have. This passenger violated 14 C.F.R. § 121.580, which among other particulars, requires every passenger on a commercial airline to OBEY (very strongly worded) the commands of the Pilot and/or Flight Crew once you have boarded the plane and for the duration of the flight. Further, under 49 U.S.C. § 46301(a)(5), a passenger is subject to a civil penalty for violating these regulations, including the regulations involved in this case, issued under 49 U.S.C. § 44701. Read the fine print next time you purchase a ticket, not only are you required to follow the flight crews instructions, contrary to popular opinion, purchasing an airline ticket and having an assigned seat is not a guaranty that you will fly on that flight or in that seat. You DO have rights, but being belligerent and argumentative, and refusing to cooperate are not among them.

Keep in mind that airlines can legally remove you from any flight that you have booked (and paid for – and even boarded), for any number of reasons, and it is not illegal for airlines to overbook flights. Remember, the reason airlines overbook flights is OUR FAULT anyway, because on average 2-7% of seats sold end up being no-shows. Reselling those seats helps to keep the rest of our ticket prices down. An empty seat beside you is great on a flight, but what that really means is that next time, you’ll pay more for your booking.

For a detailed look at air travel laws, what is legal, what you might experience and what your rights REALLY ARE, I highly recommend you visit the following site so you can go to this excellent site prepared for you by the Department of Transportation.

Addressing the other finer point of context is important too.

What language was this written in? It was written in the language of social media. What do we know about social media? It is not journalism, and frequently lacks any foundation in truth. What audience was this video intended for? Clearly again, the audience that will see this in social media. It’s purpose is to appear salacious and damaging to the credibility of the airline. It’s made to make “the man” look bad – for which it does an excellent job. Remember, “news” without context, truth and the whole story, is not news at all – it is propaganda – and many of you have fallen victim.

Additionally, in the terms of context, we need to also look at the people involved in the message. In this case, let’s take a closer look at the individual tossed from the plane. This is relevant not because we want to disparage the “victim” to protect the Airlines, but rather for the very real and applicable purpose of character development. The character and the history of the individual in any story, biblical or otherwise is critical to a right understanding of the circumstances that follow.

This passenger’s name is David Dao of Elizabethtown, KY. Mr. Dao is referred to as “Doctor”, but let’s examine if this is accurate. While I have not been able to ascertain whether or not the good Doctor’s Medical Degree itself was voided or revoked, I have learned that “Dr.” Dao’s medical license was suspended in 2003 following his arrest on charges including unlawful prescribing and trafficking in a controlled substance and soliciting prostitution.

Why was his license revoked you ask? Dao was accused of providing prescriptions for Vicodin and other narcotics to a former patient he later hired as his office manager. This man has been identified in news reports (and is a matter of public record) at the time as Brian Case.The men repeatedly hooked up in motels, with Dao paying Case around $200 each time and also sharing in the drugs, according to a 130-page file compiled by the Kentucky Board of Medical Licensure. In other words, he was paying for a gay prostitute who he later hired to work at his medical office.

On the day he was arrested, Dao was secretly videotaped with Case in a Red Carpet Inn in Jefferson County, Ky., “with his shirt off and his pants undone.” Dao was convicted after a jury trial of six separate felonies and sentenced to five years’ probation after the judge agreed to suspend a prison term of two-plus years recommended by the jury. In accordance to the terms of his conviction, Dao was forced to surrender his medical license in 2005. In 2015 the medical board lifted the suspension and allowed him restricted practice. Since that time many more complaints have surfaced regarding the good “Doctor”, leading to further restrictions being applied in 2016 so that Dao can only practice internal medicine in an outpatient facility one day per week under the supervision of another Elizabethtown, KY. Doctor.

The licensing board records also reveal how Dao was “the subject of many complaints” while working at Hardin Memorial Hospital. Prior to his revocation, the Medical Executive Committee in KY “took a strong stance in 2002, and put [Dao] on a corrective action plan due to his disruptive behavior [emphasis mine]” and referred him “for evaluation and anger management,” the papers say.

Because the good “Doctor” can only work one week as a physician, it seems he has taken up gambling as a career option. Since 2006, he’s won nearly $235,000 playing tournament poker, taking home $1,191 in one January contest, according to the World Series of Poker website.

Interpretation:  Using the facts we now have at our fingertips, how do we interpret things anew?

In review – and being brief, Dao is a “Doctor” working under very strict restrictions and constant supervision because of his previous criminal activity, violation of his Hippocratic oath as a Doctor, and because he has clear, repeated, and DOCUMENTED anger management problems. This reflects a great deal of light on the character of the individual involved ion this story, and gives precedence into just how Dao would have reacted to being asked to leave the plane in accordance to the law. Additionally, when Mr. Dao told the Flight Crew and Police Officers that he needed to get back home to “attend to a patient”, since he only works one day a week, and all being non-emergency cases, he was, in all likelihood – lying. Lying to a Police Officer is another crime. In checking on-line, there is NO evidence of a Dr. David Dao practicing in Elizabethtown, KY, only that of a Teresa Dao (relation?) who is a pediatrician. I could not find anything on David Dao, unable to confirm his story of having to be at work by 8:00, his comments stand as speculation.

We also see that as much as we may not like it, United Airlines had every right to ask Mr. Dao, or for that matter any passenger to leave the plane under these and many other circumstances.

Application: Let’s look at the application side of this study from both sides of the story. First from the side of the passenger, Mr. Dao, and secondly from the side of United Airlines, and eventually the Chicago Police.

Before we go further, let us all agree that this situation escalated. Since we do not know how much time transpired from the time the initial request was made by the Flight Crew for Mr. Dao to leave, until the time that all the iPhone® cameras started rolling, we would be wrong to say things escalated quickly – as we truly do not know. We have only, still today, only exposed to a very small portion of the event/incident. We are given nothing except the end results of what happened. Therefore, judging too harshly in this area on either side would be in error.

Mr. Dao: What we know of the event is in part due to the release of second video taken before Mr. Dao was dragged off the plane. In this video, David Dao, before he is ever touched mind you, is heard to say, “I will make [sic] lawsuit against United Airlines”. He is heard repeatedly telling the police officers that he will “not leave”, and he will not be removed, that authorities will “have to drag me off the plane”, and that “I would rather go yo jail” than comply with the Chicago Police Officers, duly authorized by the law to remove Mr. Dao from the plane.

Mt. Dao was asked multiple times to please leave the plane. He refused. We do not know how many times he was politely asked by the Flight Crew, but we can assume it was many – as they had to call the police to get the job done. Mr. Dao was then given multiple requests and opportunities to leave the plane voluntarily by the police officers. He repeatedly refused.

Mt. Dao’s responsibility and duty was to leave the plane. He may not have like that idea, and we all totally understand. Had he left voluntarily in accordance with the law,

  • He would have received a refund for his ticket.
  • He would have been put on the next available flight that in all likelihood would have allowed him to be at work by 8:00 if in fact that was a necessity
  • He would have been provided with a $500 travel voucher for use on any future flight.
  • He would not have been roughed up by the police

All I can say to that is be careful what you wish for. Mr. Dao was subsequently removed from the plane in accordance with the law.

United Airlines/The Chicago Police: United had an issue getting a flight crew to a new location to see that another flight was able to get airborne. They had to make a decision; do we inconvenience one passenger here on this flight, or do we cancel a flight entire flight elsewhere and inconvenience up to 350 other paying passengers. Consider this – what would you think of a man refusing to get off a plane in some other city, if you were one of the 350 passengers that no longer had a flight to get on? Hmmm…. Since most people have never taken the time to consider this point of fact, now might be a good time to do so. Yes, these are inconvenient circumstances. But is not the good of the many outweighed by the good of the one? What would YOU do in such a circumstance – ask one passenger to leave this plane, or cancel a flight and ruin the travel plans of over 300 people at once? In the end, this is the classic “no brainer” for us to ponder.

After being asked to leave – and refusing to do so, United was forced to call the Chicago Police. Their job is to enforce the laws, and removing this passenger was in accordance with the law. The passenger refused to cooperate, told them he’d rather be drug off the plane and go to jail. So, the Officers, being forced by the decision of the passenger, performed their job to the level they felt was necessary to remove the screaming, flailing, belligerent passenger by whatever means of force were necessary. Force I might add, that was required because the passenger REFUSED TO COMPLY WITH THE LAW.

Decisions similar to this are made hundred of times per day – all over the country. Most flights are overbooked – as we have already gone over. It’s OUR fault as passengers that the flights are overbooked. We have to remember that we are fickle, sinful people and often do not live up to our obligations, like taking the plane that we have agreed to fly on. Granted, some tickets are non-refundable, but many ARE. when you buy a ticket, do not use the ticket, and then get your refund, the airline loses money. This is why they overbook the flights. All in accordance with the law. I have yet to be at a gate where the airline counter is not paging people to make sure they are there, adding more people to cover those who do not check on time, and just generally going out of their way to accommodate as many passengers and their requests as possible. Ever book a flight and then ask for a seat change?

You see, as passengers, we are HUGE hypocrites. We get infuriated at United Airlines for this event, yet, how many of you take on too many carry on just because you do not want to go to baggage claim at your destination? How many of us take on carry-on bags that are too large or overweight – knowing that its against the rules? How many of us use our electronic devices AFTER we have been ordered to turn them off – or turn them on before we get back to the gate? How many of us do not keep our seat-belts fastened all the time as we are required to do? How many of us get out of our seats when the fasten seat-belt light is on?

Conclusion: As you can see from above, we break the rules of the airlines all the time – and yet – planks firmly planted in our own eyes, we get angry at the United for forcibly removing one belligerent passenger! We are hypocrites.

If we are Christians (and I’m not saying Mr. Dao is or isn’t – I have no idea), when asked to leave the plane under these same circumstances, we are obliged by duty and the commands of God as Christians, to politely get up, and leave the plane. We are also obliged not to defend wrong actions. We do not defend abortion, murder, or robbery (and I am not comparing any of these things to the refusal to leave a plane…), but God sees sin as sin. Proverbs 17:15 states, “He who justifies the wicked, and he who condemns the righteous, Both of them alike are an abomination to the LORD.” To disobey the government that HE has permitted to exist (as quoted earlier), we are resisting the authority of GOD!

While no one want to see actions like this, and people suffer shame and pain, and while many of us do not like the actions of the airlines and the freedom they have to act in manner such as this that we so often see simply as ‘big over-powerful companies just trying to get richer’ – the one thing we know for sure – is that every event that took place after the announcement of Mr. Dao’s removal could have been 100% prevented had Mr. Dao obeyed the commands of the flight crews as is required by law. He would not have been touched by police, he’s still be back home – albeit a little bit later than he had intended, he’s have a $500 travel voucher to use at any time, he’d not have been bloodied and bruised, and United would not be getting sued. Everything that has happened to Mt. Dao rests firmly and absolutely on his shoulders. He is solely to blame for the escalation of the event.

The moral of this story: Don’t do the crime if you can’t do the time…er, I mean .. If you do not want to suffer the consequences of disobeying the law, as God put it – even for consciences sake, then do not break them. If asked, as a Christian, we should be the one’s volunteering to leave the plane, not the one’s complaining about what has happened to a man – of which we know only half the story – and defending his immature actions that in fact violate the law.

I’m all about grace. Without Grace, we are nothing but lumps of sinful garbage headed for eternity in hell. Gods is all about Grace – which is why He sent His Son. Compassion is encompassed in grace, and in spite of my conclusions in this case, I am not without compassion for Mr. Dao. I’m as heartbroken as anyone to see his bloodied face. But, the problem as I see, and others will agree with, is that the current iteration of Christians are so fixated on Grace, and their Christian entitlements (my term), that they forget that sin exists and that yes, there are worldly consequences for sin. If Mr. Dao is a Christian, his transgressions against God for his egotistical disobedience and self-importance are forgiven by Grace, but he realized the consequences of his sin.

God is a jealous God. He is a God of order (I Corinthians 14:33). He is also a God of justice. If sin is sin – and abomination to God – something that cannot be taken into heaven, than there must be a punishment for sin, or there is no justice in God. Yes, Virginia, there is justice in God’s realm. God doe snot promise us from the protection of the consequences of our sin, he promised us forgiveness from it, and an eternity in Heaven with him.

While teaching Grace is a must, not teaching ALL the counsel of God, and that we are responsible before man and God for the consequences of our actions, has poisoned this generation of Christians, and turned many of them into what Dietrich Bonhoeffer called “Cheap Grace”. Cheap Grace is Grace taught without the consequences of sin, and the true, real life cost of being a Christian. That cost is suffering, pain, discomfort, and yes – being inconvenienced.

We would all do well to remember Bonhoeffer’s words.







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