Why Dr. Dao Got Kicked Off United Express Flight 3344

By now, most of you have probably seen the video or at least heard of Dr. Dao, the United passenger that boarded flight 3344 from Chicago O’Hare to Louisville on Sunday April 9th and was physically assaulted after he refused to get off the flight. Pretty brutal indeed.

The incident created a media frenzy around what happened to Dr. Dao, how United’s CEO Oscar Munoz did a complete about-face on the incident, and how United’s stock value plummeted nearly $1.4 billion after the incident (1).

But why did it happen? Can you explain the root cause of the incident?

Enter GroundSwell Institute and our content


One of the key areas we teach and study at GroundSwell Institute is Organizational Development. Organizational Development is fancy term for all the “stuff” a customer or client doesn’t directly see or touch when they buy a product or service. It’s all the stuff under the hood of a business.

Take your new race stock slalom skis. You order them in June and then one day in late October they show up at your doorstep, or, if you’re lucky, your coach has had them shipped directly to your local ski shop to have them prepped for fall training camp at Copper in early November. Either way, have you ever really thought about what happens on the company’s side of things once you buy those skis?

Probably not, but a bunch of things go on between order and delivery, and I bet you don’t think anything of all that until you unpack the long cardboard shipping box and find yourself holding two pair of different length slalom skis. And then you care like heck what happened under the hood between June and October, especially if you’re leaving for Colorado in less than a week.

And you probably don’t spend much time thinking about all the stuff that goes on under the hood of Air New Zealand’s business when you board that 12-hour plus flight to Auckland for your summer training at RoundHill - until something goes really, really wrong.

But one day you’ll probably get a job, or maybe you already have one, or you may manage a business where you’re responsible for some or all of the “under the hood” of the organization. You might be a doctor running your own clinic or the general manager at Ski Racing magazine. Wouldn’t you like to prevent the mismatched pair of slalom skis or what happened to Dr. Dao in your organization?

So, why did Dr. Dao get assaulted for not volunteering to get off United flight 3344 from Chicago?

GroundSwell’s content gets to the underlying root cause.

Our organizational content is depicted in the following pyramid. We call it the Pyramid of Organizational Development, the infrastructure of an organization.

Management Systems 2017

There are nearly 20 different pieces of that pyramid. And each of those pieces can be assessed both qualitatively and quantitatively.

We teach our Fellows (that’s what we call our students at GroundSwell Institute) to both assess and build the necessary infrastructure in any organization, whether it’s their local ski team, a church, or one of the largest airlines in the world.

Too bad Oscar Munoz hasn’t attended our school. If he had, he would have known he didn’t have all the pieces of United’s infrastructure dialed in effectively. If he did, Dr. Dao won’t have gotten assaulted.

According to a recent Wall Street Journal article on the Dr. Dao incident (2), at United, “…Deviating from the rules is frowned upon, employees can face termination for a foul-up….At United this has helped create a rule-based culture where its 85,000 employees are reluctant to make choices not in the ‘book’…”

At United, it’s safe to say they don’t have much customer orientation in their culture.

Don’t get me wrong: particularly in the airline industry, where people’s lives are literally at stake if a flight crashes or a bad guy hijacks a plane and decides to use it as flying bomb, creating rules and following them are critical and essential - but to a point.

And that’s where United doesn’t fundamentally have all their under-the-hood stuff in place, if you will.

But they could, with GroundSwell’s knowledge and training on culture.

Why? Because we know, based on extensive validated research, that an organization’s culture literally contributes 50% of the actual profits (fancy word for the actual cash that goes into a company’s bank account) from one company to the next.

But United didn’t know that.

And we also know, based on third-party validated research, that you need more than just a rules-based culture to be a successful. United didn’t know that either.

Rules are important and you need them in every company and organization, and we also know, based on extensive research, that there are four other areas that comprise any organization’s culture. Can you guess what those four areas (we call them dimensions) are?

Watch for an upcoming blog on the other areas of organizational culture.


(1) http://fortune.com/2017/04/11/united-airlines-stock-drop/

(2) www.wsj.com/articles/behind-united-airlines-fateful-decision-to-call-police

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