Anytime I hear a story about accessible air travel gone horribly wrong, I just can’t stop myself from doing a little Monday morning quarterbacking. It’s just the way my mind works. I try to put myself in the passenger’s position and attempt to figure out if there is way that the situation could have been prevented. It’s not that I get delight in second guessing a total stranger — it’s just that I feel that if I discover a solution, it may be helpful to others who find themselves in the same situation in the future.
So of course I went into full “what would I have done?” mode when I heard Baraka Kanaan’s tale of his horrendous boarding and deplaning experiences on Delta Air Lines.
The incidents in question happened a year ago, but it’s now coming to light because Kanaan recently filed suit against Delta. As the story goes, Kanaan — who was unable to walk due to parparesis — traveled from Maui to Nantucket, only to be told that the aisle chair and lift needed to deplane him were not available. He was then left to his own devices after he was reportedly told that the employees could not assist him. So he crawled off the plane, down the stairs and across the tarmac to his wheelchair. When he complained, he was reassured that it would not happen again. Unfortunately it did happen again — on his return flight. This time after he was informed that there was no aisle chair or lift, employees offered to put down some cardboard so he wouldn’t get dirty crawling to the plane.
There are several things that bother me about the incident. First, I can understand (a little) that there might be a wait for an aisle chair, but having absolutely no aisle chair or lift at all seems a little strange to me. Surely there would have been complaints about this before, if this was the case. The Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA) mandates ramp or lift access at airports with more than 10,000 annual enplanements, and on planes with 19 or more seats. Nantucket Airport had 175,000 enplanements in 2012, and the Embraer regional jet that Kanaan was likely traveling on has 50 seats. I might be able to understand if the lift was broken, but where the heck was the aisle chair? That totally doesn’t make sense to me.
And why did they force him to crawl across the tarmac? They certainly could have brought his wheelchair to the base of the stairs. Granted, airline employees are also prohibited from carrying passengers under the ACAA, but certainly someone could have at least wheeled his chair up to the plane.
And then there is the cardboard. What in the world was the employee who came up with that idea even thinking?
And last but certainly not least, the only way I am going to crawl off any airplane is if the darn thing is on fire. Seriously, if I couldn’t walk, and the flight attendant told me that they didn’t have the proper equipment to deplane me, let’s just say that the conversation wouldn’t end there. I wouldn’t attempt to get off under my own power, and perhaps injure myself. They way I figure, sooner or later they are going to need that airplane, (and since it’s a regional jet it’s probably going to be sooner than later) so they can just darn well figure out how to get me off the plane.
My plan of action would be to ask to speak to the Complaints Resolution Official (CRO), who would be able to resolve the problem. There is no way on God’s green earth that any CRO is going to say “Well, I guess you’ll just have to crawl.” Every airline is required to have a CRO on duty during airport operating hours, so don’t take no for an answer. If the rank-and-file employee you are dealing with doesn’t know who the CRO is, ask to speak to a supervisor. Sure I know that a lot of people don’t like to make a fuss, but when you’re faced with crawling off an aircraft, that is the time to fuss.
Delta hasn’t made any comment on the incident, but I sincerely hope they will find out what went wrong and prevent it from ever happening again. But just in case they don’t, always remember that CRO! He or she is your lifeline!
And, if a plane trip is in your future, read the ACAA so you will know and understand your rights. There’s so much misinformation about accessible air travel online, so it’s always best to go to the source.