CNN featured a story today about a United passenger with cerebral palsy who was forced to crawl down the aisle to exit the plane because there was no aisle wheelchair available to get him to the jetway:
A man returning from a meeting about disabled accessibility policies arrived home with a very personal example of the problem.
D’Arcee Neal, who has cerebral palsy, took a five-hour flight from San Francisco to Washington last week. A mix-up at the gate meant there was no wheelchair to help the 29-year-old off the plane, so he was told to wait for one to be found.
This story hit home for me because my father in law is in a wheelchair and has been in this situation where the tools necessary to get him on and off the plane were not available.
For him, getting around is hard enough. But, when space becomes tight and surfaces are made of metal, the consequence of falling can be much worse than a tumble at home.
This means access to aisle chairs is critical and the mistake to send it away before Mr. Neal deplaned was a big mistake.
The problem was compounded by the fact Mr. Neal needed to use the restroom and United continued telling him to wait for the chair to return.
My family’s travels have had us in similar situations where it seems everyone around us in a position to help doesn’t understand the urgency of the situation.
And I can tell you from experience, solving problems like this rarely leads to the most dignified solution. So, I’m not surprised Mr. Neal was basically forced to crawl off the plane.
To United’s credit, the story only went public because Mr. Neal was happy about the actions the airline took after the incident.
First, a flight attendant onboard reported the issue. That seems obvious but our experience is it’s more common the flight attendants just want to finish their flight and be on their way.
I remember a Delta crew debating whether they needed to write up an incident where my father in law fell in the galley exiting the plane. They ultimately decided not to because, “it wasn’t that bad.”
United customer service also followed up about the incident and apologized. I’m sure the passenger appreciated the $300 compensation. But, what stood out to me is the fact the manager on duty was suspended.
That is the sort of consequence that shows United takes these issues seriously and helps ensure future incidents are handled more carefully.