Wheelchair-User Forced to Crawl off United Flight


airplane_landing_199029I absolutely hate writing posts like this, mostly because in this day and age things like this just shouldn’t happen. The Air Carrier Access Act was passed in 1986, yet I continue to get reports of gross access failures of US airlines.

And Tyler Schilhabel’s recent incident aboard United Airlines is the latest entry in this book of shame.

Schilhabel and his new bride flew from Los Angeles to Chicago to Punta Cana in the Dominican Republic, to celebrate their recent nuptials. Let’s just say that things didn’t exactly go as planned. Schilhabel notified the airline in advance that he was a wheelchair-user, and that he would need wheelchair assistance at the airports and an aisle chair to board his flights.

Things started off good in Los Angeles, but when he arrived in Chicago there was no aisle chair to found. As the minutes ticked away, he became worried about his tight 50-minute connection, so the flight attendant carried him off the plane and transferred him to his wheelchair.

I have mixed emotions about this, as carrying a passenger is clearly prohibited — even with their consent — in the Air Carrier Access Act; however I also understand that things could have turned out much worse if Schilhabel had missed his connecting flight.

And just when he thought things couldn’t get much worse, there was no jetway, lift, or aisle chair available when he arrived in Punta Cana.. In the end Schilhabel was forced to scoot down the aircraft aisle, after which his wife had to help him down the stairs. Unfortunately she injured her wrist in the process.

Miraculously the Punta Cana lift was located for his return flight, but again there was no aisle chair available in Chicago, so after 45 minutes Schilhabel scooted down the aisle again.

So what does the law say about this? Basically airlines are required to provide prompt deplaning for wheelchair-users, and in this case “prompt” means immediately after the last passenger is deplaned. Additionally, lift access is required at airports that lack jetways. And of course, hand-carrying passengers is strictly prohibited.

United of course apologized for their service failures, but it was all a little too late for Schilhabel.

My only hope is that Schilhabel made a formal complaint to the Department of Transportation (DOT) about this, because that’s the only way to effect change. It’s not enough to just notify the airline — you need to go further.

So keep that in mind if you ever encounter an access service failure in the air. Filing an official complaint is easy. Just fill out the form at https://airconsumer.dot.gov/escomplaint/ConsumerForm.cfm.

Seriously, this isn’t going to stop until the DOT cracks down on the airlines.