Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Are You Too Disabled to Fly? Knowledge Keeps You From Being Grounded!

Ever think you could be removed from an airplane because an airline decided you were “too disabled?” Well, you shouldn’t if flying in the U.S. or on a plane flying to and from the U.S. because you have rights under the Air Carrier Access Act. The ACAA is, what I sometimes refer to as, the “ADA of flying.”

There have been some recent
news stories regarding a US Airways employee told Johnnie Tuitel, a man with cerebral palsy who has thousands of air miles under his belt as he travels for work, that he had to disembark the plane prior to take-off. He was then advised that he was too disabled to fly. That they deemed him unable to assist himself or others so he would have to pay for a companion to join him.

You might be surprised to know that the airline was partially correct. They *can* say that you are not able, in their view, to assist yourself or others in an emergency and therefore need a companion.

It was the rest of the story in the articles I read which was missing.
In a 2008 blog, I wrote about the importance of “knowledge is power”, the “ACAA” and that you should know about a “CRO.”

I kept thinking, where’s the ACAA in this news story? Where’s the “who has the responsibility of the cost of the companion” part in the articles? Where’s the mention of the “Complaints Resolution Official” (“CRO”) who is the passenger advocate at the airport? The news stories I read made no mention that there are legal rights which seemed to have been ignored and unknown. Perhaps on both sides. With limited information, I offhand blame the employee and her supervisor, but let me reiterate…. I wasn’t there and I only know what’s been reported.

Just when I was getting very disillusioned about no one mentioning the ACAA, how a “required companion” really works and that a CRO should have been called, Candy Harrington from Emerging Horizons wrote a blog that filled in the blanks. So what should have happened? Let’s give the employee the benefit of the doubt on the judgment call just for the sake of knowing what should have happened next.

1) In hindsight, I wouldn’t have disembarked the plane. This passenger didn’t know why they were disembarking him and thought perhaps it was a family emergency.
2) ACAA says that, if a companion is required, the airline must provide the companion. The passenger cannot be required to pay for a second passenger.
3) I would not have budged without a CRO coming to hear what was transpiring and making a decision. A CRO is completely versed on the ACAA. Once called, that plane wouldn’t have gone anywhere until a CRO was on the issue either in person or by phone. S/he would have known and required that, if the airline felt this passenger (who flies often) was at risk by himself, the airline had to provide the companion.

I feel for the disembarked passenger. From what I’ve seen, his attitude is forgiving and that he wants the airline staffs to be educated so it doesn’t happen again. I want consumers to take it one step further. Read the ACAA. Know your rights. Don’t allow this to happen to you!

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