Hello, again. This is Casper’s momma, Lauri, here to deliver this weeks PSA.
I was appalled this week to read a story about man who was completely humiliated as he was made to arm crawl off a plane and across a tarmac from a Delta flight because they did not have the equipment available to help him deplane. D. Baraka Kanaan, of Maui, is wheelchair bound after a car accident left him unable to use his legs. He flew into Nantucket, MA from Hawaii where he was informed that the equipment he needed to comfortably leave the plane was not available. The flight attendant told him she didn’t know what he should do. He then had to crawl, using only his arms, down the narrow aisle, off the plane, and across the tarmac to his wheelchair while wearing his best suit. When he returned to the airport for his flight home the equipment was still not available but this time Delta was nice enough to offer cardboard for him to crawl on so he did not dirty his clothes. Oh, and by the way, he was due to have spinal surgery in a few weeks which had to be delayed because the crawl caused injuries to his spine.
There are so many things wrong with this that it makes my head spin. First, let me say that I used to work for an airline and there is quite a bit of training about disabilities for all employees. Let’s look at all the ways this airline failed.
1. All airlines should have at least 3 things at their disposal for passengers who have mobility issues: a wheelchair, an aisle chair, and a lift. For those of you not familiar with this things I will explain. The wheelchair part you all know. Airports are full of them. Sometimes other passengers snag your company’s wheelchairs and you might have to hunt one down, but they are always around. An aisle chair is a wheelchair of sorts. This is designed especially to fit down the aisle of an airplane because a typical wheelchair will not fit. Passengers sometimes snag these too, but usually they are stored behind the jet bridge door where passengers can’t randomly take them. If they go missing (and I have been in a situation where this happened) then there is always a neighboring airline happy to help you out. Note that in this article there is mention that one belonging to another airline was clearly visible. The other item used is a lift. This is usually a plastic board or a canvas/netted sling to help employees move the passenger from a chair to their seat. In a pinch you my not need this, but only trained employees will help to lift the passenger so that it is done in a way that causes the least discomfort or embarrassment. So how is it this airline had NONE of these things? And even in this amazing catastrophe why did they not at LEAST bring his chair to the steps to prevent him from having to crawl across the tarmac????
2. There is always someone on every shift who is trained to take any complaints from a passenger with a disability who was not provided for adequately and that person should know exactly how to resolve these issues. In this case the man was apparently not provided a representative at the airport and when he called in he was offered a voucher and more frequent flyer miles. Not only that, but there was no mention of compensation for his ruined clothes. Perhaps this isn’t that big of an issue, but it is the least (and I mean very least) they could do.
3. The reservation was clearly marked with notes that he would need these items upon landing. Now, I did not work for Delta so I do not know how their system works, but the airline I worked for had very clear notations of this in the reservations and when a plane was near to the airport this was checked and the equipment was rounded up if not already at the gate. Was there no employees in the airport at all? None? How could they miss that?
4. What is wrong with the flight attendant who did not try to help him in any way? Regardless of you training how can you watch this happen? If I had been a passenger on the plane I would have rushed ahead for a chair or asked another airline to come help. This is actually the worst part for me, the lack of compassion in this situation.
Sometimes discrimination is hard to spot from the outsider’s standpoint. An ‘innocent’ question about a disability or a lack of common sense may not seem important to the observer. These are the kinds of things I want to start calling attention to. It never occurred to me that such a blatant show of disregard would still exist, though. I never imagined that in this day and age there would be so much ignorance and so little compassion still. I hope that this terrible situation shines a spotlight on disability awareness. Please share this with others so that more will learn from these mistakes.
P.S. This is not the first time Delta has made a passenger with a disability crawl off of a plane.