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U.S. Airways tells passenger he's too disabled to fly


Two readers recently sent us this article (in which ABC uses the phrase "wheelchair bound" in the first three words) regarding a U.S. Airways passenger being told that he's too disabled to fly.  The man, who has cerebral palsy, has flown all over the country for his job and had never before reported any problems.

It would be easy to go off on a diatribe against U.S. Air and the pilot who threw him off the plane.  That's the easy reaction.  But that's not the appropriate and productive reaction.  Because, in a way, I understand where the pilot is coming from. 

Photo courtesy of aviationexplorer.com

When he gets on the plane, the pilot's number one priority is to get each and every one of his passengers safely to their destination.  In this situation, the pilot assumed the passenger with cerebral palsy would not be able to assist himself in the case of an emergency, and certainly not be able to assist anyone else.  With that in mind, it would make sense that he would ask for the man to only fly with a companion.

A major problem here, of course, is that the pilot assumed things.  As is pointed out in the article, Johnnie Tuitel says "Nobody asked me what my abilities were.  Nobody asked me what my needs were..."

If a pilot, or any other airline employee is going to assume whether a passenger can help him or herself, then why do they allow the elderly to fly? Why do they allow young children to fly alone?  Does somebody who is obese pose a threat in the case of an emergency?  What about somebody on crutches?  Where do the assumptions, and the discrimination, end? It wouldn't end, and that's why it should never start in the first place.

As this story makes clear, we need to do a better job of educating the general public about disabilities.  I fly on my own all the time.  As does Mr. Tuitel, and thousands of other people with disabilities each day.  It's never a problem.  If we need help, we'll ask, and that should be the end of it. 

And if it's decided that everybody who may struggle in an emergency has to stay at home, we'll start to see a lot of empty airplanes flying the friendly skies...



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1 Comment

Kevin Rak said:

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I am rather confused at the reaction from the company. The spokesman seemed to defend the crew that asked him to leave the aircraft, but later US Air offered him a consulting position to work on disability concerns. I wonder how many other companies, even large ones, are so deficient in training and procedures for staff on working with customers with disabilities.

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