US Airways, A Disabled Passenger Removed From A Flight & The Grey Areas

Last week a story broke that US Airways had removed Johnnie Tuitel from a flight for being “too disabled.”  Since the story broke there have been countless stories in the news and comments in various social media channels regarding the removal of Mr. Tuitel from the flight and speculation surrounding the circumstances of the incident.

I sat down to write about this incident on this past Friday, sure than US Airways was wrong … then I began to explore the incident further, including reading US Airways Contract of Carriage, speaking with flight attendants, interviewing US government officials in the aviation and transportation sector, seeking comments from US Airways employees and sitting down to read Title 14 — Aeronautics and Space, Chapter II — Department of Transportation Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) Part 382 : Nondiscrimination On The Basis Of Disability In Air Travel … specifically ‘§ 382.31 Refusal of Transportation’  … which then led to also reading 49 U.S.C. 44902, 14 CFR 91.8, 14 CFR 121.533 … and CFR § 382.65 … yup, just the light reading most folks want to spend their Friday nights with.

Before I get further into this subject, let me go over the undisputed facts … on the 23rd of September 2010 Johnnie Tuitel, who is wheelchair bound due to cerebral palsy, was assisted to his seat by a US Airways gate agent at Palm Beach International Airport. Shortly after being assisted to his seat, Mr. Tuitel was approached by the same gate agent whom informed Mr. Tuitel the airline needed to speak with him outside the aircraft.  Mr. Tuitel was then assisted into a wheel chair, removed from the aircraft and told that he would need to fly with a companion as his disability prevents him from aiding himself from exiting the aircraft unassisted in the event of an emergency.

On the surface, US Airways’ actions were wrong … and procedurally the way the situation was handled by US Airways was incorrect … however within this grey area,  legally the actions taken by the US Airways ground staff at Palm Beach Int’l Airport were correct as per Department of Transportation regulations.

The decision to remove a passenger from a flight due to disabilities is a tricky one, and one fraught with potential legal ramifications, however US Airways’ Contract of Carriage, which is publicly available, states its policy under Section 3.1 (7)Refusal of Transport.

US Airways may require a passenger with a disability in one of the following categories to travel with a safety assistant, as a condition of being provided air transportation, if US Airways determines that a safety assistant is essential for safety:

A passenger with a mobility impairment so severe that the person is unable to physically assist in his or her own evacuation of the aircraft;

From a public relations perspective, the decision to remove Mr. Tuitel from the aircraft is not a popular one,  especially given that the way this situation was handled was incorrect.  Should a US Airways passenger be determined ‘too disabled to fly alone’ the airline policy requires the passenger be consulted to discuss their ability or inability to aid themselves in an emergency evacuation of the aircraft. Should the passenger and the airline reach an impasse, a Complaint Resolution Officer (CRO) need to be contacted and brought into the conversation.

In the situation regarding Mr. Tuitel, not only was Mr. Tuitel, not part of the conversation, but additionally no CRO was brought into the conversation, and reports from US Airways staff at West Palm Beach familiar with the incident indicate the Captain of the aircraft, who legally has the final word, was not brought into the conversation either.

Mr. Tuitel, who has flown an estimated 500,000 miles in the past few years as a motivational speaker and advocate, publicly states he was fully aware of the US Airways Contract of Carriage rules, but he preferred to fly alone to keep costs down.   Further more Mr. Tuitel’s view is that should “something happen are you going to help me? of course you are.” While the vast majority of people are good natured and have the best of intentions, in an emergency, the person seated with Mr. Tuitel may be unable to assist him and bring him to safety, or be preoccupied with their own safety to pay attention to Mr. Tuitel’s needs.

No airline wants the appearance of discrimination, however the safety of all passengers on board during the event of an emergency comes before all else. What happens if Mr. Tuitel is unable to aid himself? The potential is there that he can not only become further injured in an accident, but also become a hindrance to other escaping the plane … not intentionally … but that is why the DOT has written CFR § 382.31 Refusal of Transportation’

US Airways has reached out to Mr. Tuitel, inviting him to come meet with executives and discuss the situation and work on ways that airlines can be better able to assist disabled passengers.  US Airways, an airline that has frequently been quiet during times of public relations crisis has been open and forthcoming in this situation. In a phone conversation with US Airways spokeswoman Michelle Mohr, she acknowledged “we could have done better job discussing the situation with Mr. Tuitel” and that “We are looking into why a CRO was not involved in addressing this situation.” These are all positive things …

… however the airline still faces a problem.  The situation of refusing travel to disabled passengers falls into a grey area, as airline staff are not specialists in disabilities. A ground agent or pilot may not know a disabled passengers abilities or limitations.  No airline, or corporation, likes to be in a grey area, because it is challenging to enforce policy, especially a safety policy, while attempting to win a public perception problem within a grey area.

While Mr. Tuitel has expressed he has no plans to sue US Airways, he has stated that he believes the actions preventing him from flying alone violated the American Disabilities Act (ADA) and his civil rights.  In fact no attorney I consulted believes any civil rights were violated nor does the American Disabilities Act cover any area of the Department of Transportation  and Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) regulations regarding air travel safety issues.  US Federal regulations regarding air travel for this disabled are covered under Title 14 — Aeronautics and Space, Chapter II — Department of Transportation Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) Part 382 : Nondiscrimination On The Basis Of Disability In Air Travel

Here is where US Airways finds the legality in its Contract of Carriage pertaining the refusal of air travel to those deemed ‘to disabled to fly’ … CFR Part 382, Subpart C — Requirements Concerning Services, § 382.31 Refusal of Transportation (d)

Carrier personnel, as authorized by 49 U.S.C. 44902, 14 CFR 91.8, or 14 CFR 121.533, may refuse to provide transportation to any passenger on the basis of safety, and may refuse to provide transportation to any passenger whose carriage would violate the Federal Aviation Regulations. In exercising this authority, carrier personnel shall not discriminate against any qualified individual with a disability on the basis of disability and their actions shall not be inconsistent with the provisions of this Part. In the event that such action is inconsistent with the provisions of this Part, the carrier shall be subject to remedies provided under § 382.65.

Under 49 U.S.C 44902, Part (b) states:

(b) Permissive Refusal. – Subject to regulations of the Under Secretary, an air carrier, intrastate air carrier, or foreign air carrier may refuse to transport a passenger or property the carrier decides is, or might be, inimical to safety.

While the wording ‘inimical’ may be a poor choice of wording, under the ‘spirit of the law’ this can pertain to someone who is unable to assist themselves.   Personally I’d like to see this wording changed to more appropriate and defined choice of words.

Additionally, 14 CFR 121.533, Part (d) states:

(d) Each pilot in command of an aircraft is, during flight time, in command of the aircraft and crew and is responsible for the safety of the passengers, crew members, cargo, and airplane.

Simply put, this means if the Pilot In Command believes one passenger being unable to aid themselves without someone there to specifically assist them puts other passengers at risk, they have the full authority to have them removed from the flight … because ultimately it is the pilot’s responsibility … but this leads to the procedural issue that reports state the US Airways pilot was not a part of the conversation to have Mr. Tuitel removed from the flight.

Now if you’re wondering why I didn’t address 14 CFR 91.8 (and you’re still awake after reading all if this) … let me explain why 14 CFR 91.8 has been left out. Neither the DOT, the FAA or a lawyer I had consulted can explain why 14 CFR 91.8 is even listed for compliance. 14 CFR 91 covers “Air Traffic and General Operating Rules,” and specifically §91.8 addresses “Operating Noise Limits.”

Unless the complaint of a passenger being removed from a flight is considered an “Operating Noise Limit” … I can’t find out why its relevant to the “Refusal of Transportation”

OK … so all the legal wording is out of the way … lets get to professional opinions on what occurred. Yes, passenger opinions, media opinions and advocate opinions are important, but I think the opinions of those working in this industry, on the front lines, have the most relevance. Not one person I enquired with agreed with the decision … including US Airways employees.

Sara Keagle, author of The Flying Pinto, a long time flight attendant with a major US legacy airline (and previous guest blogger for Flying With Fish) stated:

The airline screwed up because they didn’t ask him if he felt he could assist himself.We have policies in place and agents in place to make that decision by asking the passenger if they feel they can assist themselves for one thing.”

Another long time flight attendant with a major US legacy airline stated:

“My job as a Flight Attendant is to ensure a passengers safety, An Evacuation would cause anyone an enormous amount of stress, now add to that a  disabled passenger to this equation, My job is to get EVERY Passengers out no matter what, no matter who!! I’ve had my share of disabled passengers & I have to tell you,  of the ones I’ve had they do wonders to ease MY stress. We are required to give a briefing starting with “In the event of an emergency, what is the best way I can assist you?”

She goes on to say “What USAir did wasn’t right,,  What’s next?   Passengers are not made from “Cookie Cutters” we are not all the same,  What about the passenger who is afraid to fly & then freezes in an emergency?  I’d rather have a gentleman like Johnnie Tuitel on my flight.”

While flight attendants have one view, I wondered if the opinion would differ for a US Airways gate agent, one who handles passengers daily and is in the same position as the person who removed Mr. Tuitel from the flight … and their view surprisingly did not differ from the flight attendants, with one agent stating:

Personally they had already boarded him. I can understand the part of their concern but they should have gotten a CRO to be involved. They are sent specifically to classes in handling disabled pax. I would of had a conversation with him to see if he had traveled before and if he specifically needed any help. I have seen inflights specifically go to deaf pax and show them the exit row. Even an amputee can sit in the exit row.”

This gate agent summed up their feelings on this situation with “[they] didn’t go the extra mile in my mind.”

The most surprising opinion I received comes from a former airline pilot, who is now a US Federal administrator with a focus on aviation safety. I was sure this Gov’t Official would have taken US Airways side in this situation, but he did not, stating:

I can’t believe they did that even if they thought they could.  They are required to have a complaint resolution official to make the ultimate call on whether or not to disallow travel.  It is not taken lightly.  I can’t believe this guy met the threshold for denying boarding.  My guess is some enterprising crew member made this decision on their own and probably said something to the effect of if he flies, I don’t and in that case, what are they going to do?  I have personally put people on airplanes that did not have arms and legs. “

This Gov’t Official followed up with “I am guessing the enforcement folks will be all over this since they love to fine people so well now.  They may ultimately side with US after they investigate the case, but I don’t see how.”

While my research in speaking with other Government officials and attorneys indicates that US Airways is in the clear legally, it is an interesting perspective that fines could be levied against US Airways by someone directly involved in aviation safety.

After all my research and contemplation I think I view both parties as needing to own up to responsibility in this unfortunate situation. US Airways has said they made some mistakes and hopefully when Mr. Tuitel visits their executives they can find a way to work together for the benefit of the industry.

While US Airways was in the legal right, they handled this situation poorly.  The airline’s failure to follow its own procedures will likely be the cause of any fines. Should a law suit be brought later, the airline’s failure to follow its own policy will be its downfall.

As for Mr. Tuitel, he was aware of the US Airways Contract of Carriage before boarding the flight, and with 500,000 miles under his belt, he knew he was playing the odds.  Just like rolling the dice in Vegas, sometimes your luck runs out.

Happy Flying!

Comments

  1. Wow… no comments?! I’d figure this would generate a pretty intense conversation… either that or everyone reading this is still sleeping! 🙂

    Nice post, very thorough research, though in a case such as this, I think that research was required to fully present and understand both sides of the issues.

    Keep it up! I’ll be back for more reading, and commenting, once everyone wakes up.

  2. Thoughtful article, thanks Fish. While I am usually not aligned with airline behavior, this seems like people did what they thought was right, even if they did it poorly (not going the extra mile).

    Would it have been possible to ask another pax to be Mr. Tuitel’s companion – just in case?

    I’m writing because this is interesting – but what about seriously overweight people? I am 6’4″ and 235 lbs, so not small. Boarding an AA flight from DFW to SJC yesterday (row 32 seat E thanks to my elite status!) I saw a number of people wedging themselves into seats – and I might argue that them between me and an exit poses real danger to my ability to get out of a plane.

    I think the real question is how these get handled going forward. Disabilities, obesity, age, etc. – what are the rational guideline which can be applied by gate agents – or their CROs?

    Love the site – thanks.

  3. Hmm, interesting. I kept going back and forth on who is most at fault. Sounds like the airline really messed up with how they handled the situation. But people that work for airlines are humans too and mistakes will happen. At least it sounds like US Airways acknowledges the mistake and is trying to correct it.

    David

  4. Jeff,

    An airline asking another passenger to take responsibility for a disabled passenger unable to aid themselves opens both the airline and the passenger up to significant liability issues. I would image legal counsel would have a heart attack if that option was made available.

    Happy Flying!

    -Fish

  5. Thanks for your post and thorough research!

    I still don’t understand why, while you present both sides, you seem to say the airline was right legally. I don’t know enough about the gentlemens specific disability or abilities either in general or regarding the specific person to tell you whether or not he could assist with his own evacuation. There are people who use wheelchairs, I think that is preferred to “wheelchair bound,” who can assist (for instance with their arms) with their own evacuation. I just came back from a DOT forum in Miami which extensivley covered the ACAA Air Carrier Access Act and Part 382. DOT officials stated that, for example, if a passenger that uses a wheelchair could assist with their own evacuation they should not legally be denied boarding. It sounds like the crew or station jumped the gun in denying boarding to the passenger.

    One important thing to realize in disability civil rights matters is often entities try to use safety as a sort of wild card or joker to justify any and all discrimination. DOT and other agencies have validated that arbitrary safety concerns cannot be used in most cases to justify discriminatory treatment. Just because some wood-be employee thinks there is a safety issue or concern is not a wild card joker excuse or justification for discrimination.

    Indeed a pilot in command can make a safety related decision that would be in force on the flight itself, but the carrier could still be in violation of Part 382 if the PIC say denied boarding based on an unfounded disability related safety concern. The carrier, not the PIC personally, is held accountable to the regulation and could be subject to DOT fines.

    The gentlemen obviously travels a lot, who knows, he is likely a preferred member with US Airways which should have appeared in the system and on the paperwork accessed by the gate agent and crew. The carriers failure to engage and communicate with the passenger represents a policy and 382 violation as you note. No information has also come out of what the station did right away to reaccommodate the pax.

    Also regardless of what US Airways puts in its contract of carriage, it cannot have terms that violate provisions of Part 382. Eg it can’t have a lower (easier) standard for disability safety related denied boarding. Such COC provisions would be void by Part 382.

    I am really not an expert on this kind of physical disability, but I imagine others are, and can comment more. However, like all disabilities, attitudes create the largest number of issues as do unfounded safety concerns.

    I do travel about 75 flight segments a year, and over the years, its been on nearly all the US legacy and low cost carriers at one time or another. I’ve been a top level frequent flyer on Continental, Southwest, United, and US Airways. I am totally blind, and travel with a white cane. I’ve been on a first name basis with CRO’s since I was about 19 :). I think my first CRO experience was with Trump Shuttle, and then in college I knew the CRO’s at CO in BOS and we had a good relationship over several years that I regularly flew that carrier.

    Pause for a minute, and imagine what you think would be the largest obstacles for me in the air travel ecosystem?

    I would say the biggest obstacle faced by the blind is the low expectations and perceived abilities that people have about us. People think we cannot walk long distances, walk quickly, use escallators, use revolving doors, use moving sidewalks, make a 25 minute connection in ATL, EWR, or ORD, etc.

    Said another way, people assume I need or want a lot of special assistance I don’t need or want. I represent the National Federation of the Blind, and in a recent banquett address, our president spent several minutes covering this area. He spoke mostly about making flight connections and having difficulty getting directions from gate agents because they thought he needed someone to take him from gate to gate. He also spoke of an experiment the NFB once did. Apparently a group of blind people got to the airport, and one group went off to the gate on their own, and another group asked for assistance. Apparently the group that went on their own got to the gate first. 🙂

    Said another way, people treat the blind in a condescending or patronizing way. Just this weekend I traveld roundtrip from BOS to ORD and at least 2 if not 3 people asked me eg “are you traveling by yourself,” or “is someone picking you up.” This implies however indirectly said that the person thinks if I am traveling by myself that surely I am going to need more assistance than if I were traveling with someone. The fact is I travel more than most people I know, and I’m more familiar with the nuances of airports, airplanes, and airlines than most people I know. But the assumption is made that because I am blind, I am less familiar with such things.

    I am always teling gate and ticket agents I don’t want an SSR in my PNR, and I’ve talked about the issue with various airline corporate regulatory department CRO’s. The problem is that sometimes the agent puts in the SSR without me asking for it, or without telling me.

    For me, these issues are mitigated to a small extent because I often travel the same routes, so the agents and even crews get to know me. Once I’ve traveled a few times, they usually don’t ask me any patronizing questions, or try to assume that I couldn’t find my way out of a paper bag.

    I don’t want to be singled out as being somehow “special” or “different,” anymore than anyone else who flys 75 or 100 segments a year. I don’t want an agent asking me 75 segments a year if I’m sure I can walk down a jetway, again, because they have that false safety concern….bringing that point back home.

    I’ve recently talked to other blind air travelers who do request special assistance, eg an SSR. They tell me their biggest problem is that the carriers contractors bring a wheelchair when all they want is someone to guide them. Also sometimes people have to wait for contracted assistants and can miss flights waiting. Often the quality of the contractors is subpar as well because they probably hire inexperienced people. There is also a language barrier with these contracted employees, and often, they don’t treat people with disabilities in a dignified way.

    I had a situation this summer where an AirTran flight attendant apparently had me denied boarding because he thought I would need an extensive safety briefing, and I told him I was familiar with the aircraft. I asked for a CRO, and AirTran issued me a FIM to another airline to a city closer to where I was going and a free roundtrip ticket. Because the AirTran CRO’s handled the compensation and reaccommodation so well and expediciously after the denied boarding, I did not file a DOT complaint or call the media, DOT, or a lawyer or the NFB president or tv news while standing at the gate. 🙂 My lack of action was largely also based on past, and post incident good experiences with AirTran largely at the same station. I believe I would have 6 months from the date of the incident to file a DOT complaint. I’ve flown 4 segments on AirTran since the incident, and have not had a Part 382 ACAA issue. On the last flight the same CRO was working as the gate agent, and after they closed the door, the flight attendant told me eg “the gate agent told me you are a very frequent flyer.” 🙂

    In these “special” “safety briefings,” the flight attendant often tells you the exact same information as is announced in the general safety briefing. If I fly 75 or 300 segments a year, I don’t need a special safety briefing. What if a blind pax flew 300 segments on the same aircraft type, if you take the special safety breifing idea too far, you might go down the road of thinking the person needs 300 safety breifings? 🙂 A blind person flying so much, just like someone who isn’t blind, could read out the safety breifing announcement just from their head.

    But a consumer that doesn’t know the alphabet soup of CFR, 382, FIM, PNR, SSR, CRO, etc. in their sleep is likely at a disadvantage. In my recent research, most blind people don’t know what a CRO is, or that they exist. A person with a disability should not have to become an expert on the nuances of the air travel system in order to be treated with respect and dignity. ACAA requires that carriers empower people with disabilities to make their own decisions about what if any assistance they want to receive, and is supposed to make it so that arbitrary safety assertions cannot justify or excuse discrimination. We really open Pandora’s box if we allow and justify any discrimination as ok as long as it was based on safety.

    In more recent news, you may also want to check out an accessibility suit regarding JetBlue, its kiosks, web site, and a story of how this impacted a blind air traveler:
    http://bit.ly/b6a11ysuitft

    On Twitter the hashtag
    #b6a11y
    has also been set up to discuss the JetBlue case.

    I don’t want you to think its all doomb and gloom, I have had many very good air travel experiences both on domestic and international carriers, but at the same time issues do remain.

    Thanks for pointing out US invited the pax in to their offices, I had not read that before. I actually met some of the US reps at the recent ACAA forum and they seemed compitent, engaged, and wanting to improve the air travel experience of people with disabilities at the carrier.

  6. @flyingfish
    At the DOT forums, they discuss these safety assistant. DOT suggests that either an airline employee or fellow pax could be used as a safety assistant. In some cases also the carrier must provide complimentary transportation for the safety assistant, but the carrier has the option of choosing who the safety assistant is.

    Keep in mind though also that requiring the assistant is a high bar and not the typical situation with a pax w disability. In most cases a pax with a disability must be allowed to travel without a safety assistant, and the person with a disability must be consulted as to if they need a safety assistant.

  7. In my view, the problem here is that airline employees forgot that people with disabilities are, first and foremost, people; that is why they failed to discuss the situation with the passenger and instead let their own assumptions about his capabilities dictate their actions. This is typical of attitudes toward people with disabilities. You rightly point out that the passenger bears personal responsibility for his conduct; but given that he is a frequent flyer, it is likely that he is well aware of his own capabilities and limitations. Presumably he would not fly if he did not feel he could meet the demands that might be placed upon him in an emergency.

    Weirdly, as a totally blind passenger I’ve experienced the opposite problem. I have had flight attendants tell me, with a straight face, that in the event of an emergency I should wait patiently for a member of the crew to come and get me to assist me to the exit. I have made it clear to these personnel that under no circumstances do I intend to remain in my seat and hope that they will remember that I’m there. In other words, fully intending to take personal responsibility for my safety, I have been told not to; and yet this passenger was removed from the plane because he supposedly could not assist in his own evacuation. Bottom line: Most airline personnel not only know little to nothing about people with disabilities, they also don’t know much about the regulations that are supposed to govern their own actions and decisions, or else they have wildly differing interpretations of what those regulations mean.

  8. Ummm, what makes this passenger (Mr. Tuitel) so sure that if it comes down to “His” life or the “Death” of another passenger or F/A that they are going to really take the risk of loss of life to save him??? People have good intentions even in life or death situations but the odds are not in his favor that someone is going to react as we would all hope for. Being a hero is for the lights of Hollywood and if he thinks everyone thinks that way, then he needs a serious wake up call.

    Mr. Tuitel will be the last one rescued off an aircraft that went down, depending on the type of accident it is. To many “if’s” to speculate but he is making a bold statement as such as this when he has to depend on the actions of others to save him in that situation. That’s a lot to swallow!

  9. I’ve had the same situation as Chris Danielsen as well. One time on a foreign carrier this happened eg they told me to stay in my seat in an emergency, and I told them that was bogus, the f/a at least told me this was just what their book said to do, but she realized the book was only the book as opposed to reality. I would also point out that in the book 9 Minutes 20 Seconds, profiles an Atlantic Southeast (operating as a DL commuter) accident in GA, I remember the flight attendant didn’t *always* follow the book exactly eg they improvised their emergency announcements a bit. A good read, anyway.

    Much of the problem also is inadequate airline training due to the industry bean counting mentality. The most important Part 382 area for training is eg sensitivity training, how to interact with a person with disability, and as Chris said, see the person first and the disability second. People off the street don’t have those “skills,” or compitencies generally, so it is something that would require a lot of training, role plays, and other kinds of exercises. Its not the kind of thing you can learn by looking at some web based training module you have to take at 11:00PM from your hotel after a day when you started at 6:00 A.M. Perhaps DOT needs to mandate that in depth in person training with actual people with disabilities is conductedd, with perhaps testing for compitency again mostly in the area of atitude, etc. This might sound so heavy handed regulation like but ACAA has been in place since 1986, and we still see basic fundamentals that apparently haven’t been taught or put in to practice as we get more and more anecdotes from people with disabilities.

    Another issue is that people with disabilities don’t seek out airline CRO or DOT help, so the problems continue. I got the sense from talking to lots of blind people before ACAA Miami that they didn’t think things were going well but they just grinned and bared it. Your average person has no idea literallly or figuratively “who you gonna call.” Respondents also said they didn’t see it as their role to be policy advocates or didn’t have time to do that.

  10. Mika, you raise some good points,

    However, the ‘special safety briefing’, while it may come across as patronising, is regulated in certain countries & flight crews are required to cover ‘dot points’ or face disciplinary and/or legal action. Until those regulations are amended by the authorities to be more accommodating, then yes, they will remain so. While I bend my briefings where I can, there are some points which I *must* explain in the same way, every time, no matter how capable or incapable a person may be.

    Admittedly, it is getting better on the education side of things. I’ve attended several training classes geared to interacting with customers with a disabilty, and most of what you mention is outlined, eg. don’t make assumptions, ask the person what (if any) assistance they need, etc. For example, I know that not all blind people read Braille, but then not all who read Braille may have been aware that we had a Braille version of the safety information. So I would say, “If you would prefer to have a Braille safety card than a verbal briefing, please let me know”. Hopefully this would meet with your standard & not be pateronising, but I can’t think how else to approach that without assuming that the person does not use Braille :p

    I would also ask the passenger if they had flown with my company/on this airplane type before. If not, I would offer to show them around, main features, etc so they could get a feel for the spacing & layout of their section. We were also told it can be helpful to allow the passenger to handle our demonstration equipment (such as a lifejacket) to get an idea of where everything is. Of course, this would probably be most useful for a first-time flyer who is not familiar with the aircraft environment, but could also be useful for an experienced flyer travelling on a new type.

    Unfortunately, sometimes people can overestimate their capabilities also, especially if they haven’t flown before. It can be a daunting & stressful experience. I once had to assist a lady to toilet herself because her family had wanted to save the money on the companion fare (which was heavily discounted at that carrier). It was very undignifying for both herself and me. I’m sure she was more embarrassed than I was and it made me realise that the rules are there for a reason.

    Hopefully the collaboration between the airlines and the customers with the disabilities continues so that these policies and procedures can be improved while still giving good guidelines and keeping safety relevant- for both the crews and the passengers.

  11. I don’t think this is fair in any way, having a disabled child living in another state, now the age of 26 she will never be able to travel to see me via airlines. As long as she is not placed in an exit row, she is not a threat of any kind even in an emergency to anyone else on the plane. If she is willing to take the risk of not getting off the plane verses never being able to fly, then she should be able to do that. This reasoning basically limits anyone with a disability to be subject to limits on their ability to travel. What is the difference in this and a young child being placed on the plane, who may not understand or be able to effectively evacuate or follow emergency proceedures? or someone with a mental or panic disorder? This is discrimination of the disabled and limiting access.

  12. Andra,

    This is an issue that disabilities groups need to take up with legislators and the FAA.

    There are issues with the laws as they are written, such as one referenced by the FAA being completely irrelevant to disabilities or safety.

    Happy Flying!

    -Fish

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