Things are Not Always as They Seem


I’m sure you’ve probably heard about the Horizon Air incident involving a man with end stage Parkinsons, a good Samaritan and a Facebook post that went viral. As is often the case with things of this nature, there are a number of conflicting versions of the story; but here’s what I’ve been able to sort out from statements made by Glen Johnson, Horizon Air President.

The passenger bought his ticket to Bellingham, Washington at the Redmond Airport on Thursday for a flight to visit his daughter the next day. Apparently he tried to take an over-sized bag through security on Friday, and he had some problems at the security checkpoint. Fellow passenger Cameron Clark then jumped in and tried to offer some assistance and to get airline employees to lend the guy a hand. Unfortunately he was unsuccessful in the latter attempt.

Johnson later said that employees smelled alcohol on the passenger’s breath. And since he was probably disoriented because of his Parkinson’s and possibly slurred a word or two, well they put one and one together and assumed he was intoxicated.

Bottom line – he didn’t make his flight that day.

And then Clark posted something about the incident on Facebook. That’s when the excrement hit the rotary oscillating device. Although Clark never meant for it to go viral, it got Horizon Air’s attention. Johnson apologized on Facebook, and vowed to look into the matter.

No mater how you look at it, it’s just a very sad story.

Granted, the passenger didn’t request any assistance when he purchased the ticket (according to Johnson), but apparently he did when he had problems at the security checkpoint (according to Clark). And who knows, he could have very well have had a drink, but one drink doesn’t make you drunk. Sometimes looks can be deceiving – especially where disability issues are concerned.

Johnson also pointed out that airline employees are prohibited by law from asking passengers if they are disabled. Again that’s true; however, when you see a passenger in obvious distress, you most certainly can ask if they need any assistance or even if you can help them. I mean that’s just plain old common courtesy and human compassion. Unfortunately that’s sometimes in short supply these days in airports.

So yes, the passenger arrived late. He also didn’t adhere to the checked baggage size rules. And no, he didn’t ask for wheelchair assistance at check-in. And those were all the wrong things to do.

But I don’t think that lets Horizon Air off the hook.

People with disabilities don’t fit into one nice little cookie cutter category. They come in all shapes, sizes, ages and abilities. Some people walk unsteady, some have speech issues and some even have conditions that are exacerbated by stress.

So when you happen across a person who is acting outside of what you consider “normal”, take some time to evaluate the situation. They may be acting this way because of a disability — not because they are drunk or stoned or just being a jerk – and they may be asking for help the only way the can.

So even though the passenger apparently did everything wrong, I still think Horizon Air dropped the ball. A passenger was asking for help, and I don’t think he should have been brushed off as “drunk” that quickly.

Sometimes you just have to dig beneath the surface to get the real story. And that’s something that Horizon Air employees apparently failed to do. Hopefully they will learn form this incident, so that it doesn’t happen again.

On the plus side, the passenger finally was able to visit his daughter at an alternate destination.