I’m sure you’ve probably read about the “Jon Morrow Incident” on Southwest Airlines, as quite frankly, it’s been all over the internet. Mr. Morrow, who has a fused spine and brittle bones, tried to fly unsuccessfully on Southwest Airlines last month with his Eagle Lift. Although the Eagle Lift is used to transfer wheelchair-users to their airplane seats in some parts of the UK, Canada and Australia, it’s not the norm – or even required — in the US.
Originally Southwest told Mr. Morrow that he could bring his lift so his aides could use it to transfer him to the airline seat, but the airline subsequently informed him that he would not be allowed to use and transport his Eagle Lift. The airline instead offered him the use of the aisle chair, which is standard in the US.
Was the airline wrong in doing this?
Well the airline was wrong for initially telling Mr. Morrow that he would be allowed to bring and use his Eagle Lift; but legally I think they are on firm ground for their final decision. Under the Air Carrier Access Act, airlines are required to provide boarding assistance that includes “boarding wheelchairs an/or on-board wheelchairs”. They did offer Mr. Morrow that type of boarding assistance, and there is no requirement for the airline to allow passenger-provided equipment such as the Eagle Lift.
It’s true that other airlines use the Eagle Lift for boarding, but I’m sure they’ve never had a request to transport one, as Mr. Morrow himself stated, “I’m the only individual in the world who owns one.” I expect Southwest’s big concern was in their their ability to safely transport this $15,000 piece of equipment without damaging it.
According to Southwest Airlines, “In this instance, the customer was informed that we do not have boarding procedures for the safe use of his personal Eagle Lift device, nor do our employees have training for storage of the device. This final decision was made after reviewing the device’s specifications and the requirements for transporting it and the customer safely.”
I’m sorry this happened to Mr. Morrow, but Southwest was within their right to not allow the Eagle Lift on board.
On the plus side, something positive may come out of this, as Southwest also said that they are “in contact with the manufacturer of this device to learn more about the device’s unique handling and storage requirements.” So who knows, maybe things will change in the future, and they will voluntarily allow the use and transport of this device. But like I said, for now, they are operating under the letter of the law.