Can-Do-Ability: Answers and Solutions from my personal experiences of living with a disability

Grumpy Pilot Orders Disabled Man Off His Plane

21 Jul 2011John Morris is a 24 year old paraplegic, who has limited control of his upper body, as a result of a snowboarding accident in 2006, and now requires the full time use of a wheelchair.

Last month, after attending a family gathering, John and his mother, Kathleen, were travelling on a return flight from Dallas, back home to Colorado. Because of John’s limited movement in his upper body, he requires extra seatbelts to strap his chest and legs to his seat, to assist in keeping him upright. He has previously travelled on flights, and has always used the straps, that are normally reserved for larger passengers.

After he was strapped in, the flight attendants on the Frontier Airlines flight said that they would have to have this arrangement cleared with the pilot, before take-off. Upon their return, after speaking with the pilot, the flight attendants advised that the pilot wasn’t happy with the use of the straps, as they weren’t being used in the way they were intended, and said that John would have to get off the flight.

Kathleen requested for the pilot to come and speak to her and John personally, which he refused to do. They did not want to get off the plane without talking with him first, so the pilot called airport police to remove the pair off his flight.

When the police arrived and assessed the situation, seeing that no threats to the pilot, plane or fellow passengers were being made, they advised the pilot that there was nothing they could do, as John wasn’t breaking any laws. They confirmed that John looked safely strapped into the airplane seat, but the pilot said that their equipment couldn’t be used for medical purposes and he continued on with his rant, by announcing to the police officers that ‘he (John) cannot fly, I want him off this plane’.

John and his mother eventually left the plane. They were interviewed by Denver’s ABC Affiliate, where John said ‘I felt horrible, I just felt like I didn’t belong. I haven’t felt that bad since the accident’. The airline arranged for John and Kathleen to board the next flight, which they did, in the same manner, but without any problems from the pilot.

Peter Kowalchuk, a Frontier Airline’s spokesman said in an interview ‘The pilot did what he thought was best for the safety of this disabled person and the party, as well as the airplane, there was no wrong done here. I don’t believe that his rights were violated. We’re in the process now of conducting an investigation’.

Mike Fergus, a spokesman for the Federal Aviation Administration advised that the basic rule is that a pilot has complete authority over all aspects of the aircraft.

So basically, what they’re saying is, if a pilot doesn’t ‘like’ someone on their flight, they have the right to throw them off. What next? A white pilot refuses to fly black passengers?! This is just crazy. Everyone should have the right to fly in a plane. If their policies don’t allow people with disabilities to fly, then why not? Something should be changed so that everyone has the option to fly anywhere, without issues.

Frontier Airlines has now apologized in a statement but are looking into clarifying the airline’s policy wording, to avoid this type of incident happening again. To view the original story from back in June, click here: http://www.reuters.com/article/2011/06/21/us-airline-quadriplegic-idUSTRE75K03E20110621

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