American Airlines — Right or Wrong?

Local media outlets in Killeen, Texas are reporting about an army veteran who had a bad experience on a recent American Airlines flight. According to media reports Dawn Wilcox informed flight attendants that she needed to use the restroom “really bad” just prior to landing in DFW. American Airlines says flight attendants offered the use of an onboard wheelchair, but Ms. Wilcox declined.

After landing (as is standard procedure) able-bodied passengers disembarked first, before an aisle chair was brought onboard to disembark Ms. Wilcox. By that time it was too late, as she had already had an accident. According to reports Ms. Wilcox apparently thought the flight attendants would/should disembark her first since she indicated an urgent need. As she put it “It was so easy I was right there in front.” But as we all know, that’s not airline policy or even a requirement under the Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA).

So what went wrong here? Should the airline — out of compassion — have disembarked Ms. Wilcox first, keeping the other passengers on the plane? Or were they right following the letter of the law?

Of course, since I wasn’t there it’s a hard call, but as a frequent traveler I’m familiar with airline policies and regulations. I’m also very familiar with passenger behavior. I’ve been on flights where they asked people to stay seated so EMTs could come aboard and attend to a passenger who had a medical emergency; and on flights when they asked folks to let people with tight connections get off first. From what I’ve seen, the majority of people just don’t or won’t wait; so I think it would be extremely difficult to hold back a plane of eager passengers while getting an aisle chair on board. Seriously, I’ve seen people climb over a passenger in a stretcher just so they could get off the plane first. Sad but true.

Ms. Wilcox was also upset that the airline wouldn’t help her after she had her accident. Tough call here too, as again, under the ACAA they aren’t required to do so; but should they have offered some assistance out of compassion? I think it would have been great if a kind-hearted soul volunteered for the duty, but I think the unions would take issue with an employee being assigned to help clean her up.

On the positive side, American Airlines did give her a food voucher and a coupon for a $100 credit on a future flight. Granted there’s nothing anyone can do to make this whole situation better, but at least they offered something.

The important question here is, could anything have been done to avoid this disaster? Well, the NYC-DFW flight time is just under 4 hours, and that’s without delays. Personally that’s outside of my “comfort” zone for using the bathroom. And I do have to say that delays on both ends of this route are extremely likely. So what are the options? Using the onboard wheelchair, cathing and wearing Depends. Granted in the end it’s a personal choice, but I think it’s best to assume that there will be delays along the way, so you should have a plan in place before you board.

Again, it was very unfortunate that this had to happen to someone; but don’t let it happen to you. Travel smart and have a plan of action — just in case — before you get on the plane. Knowing the law, so you know what to expect in terms of accommodations also helps too.

 

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