Written by Kristy Durso for her Facebook Page, November 21, 2022
So this kind of thing never happens to anyone else.
Today, my flight out of San Diego was delayed by about 45 minutes. This left me only a 30 minute connection in Phoenix.
“We don’t do that.”
Yes you do. I’ve seen them ask for passengers without a connection to stay seated so those with connections can make it.
While it is true that the general policy is to deplane wheelchair users last, it’s not impossible to make this work.
“If we deplane you first, then everyone else will miss their connection.”
False. Utterly false. I am quick. 20ish seconds to get the aisle chair on the plane, 30 seconds to strap me in, 20 seconds to get me out of the way so that I can put my chair together and get on my way.
“We need to take care of everyone, not just one passenger.”
You mean you need to take care of everyone but the me, a wheelchair user. Because by not assisting me off first, you are absolutely guaranteeing that I will miss my flight. Had I deplaned first, everyone else would have only been delayed a couple of minutes.
As soon as I heard the announcement to let those with tight connections deplane first with no mention of me, I knew that the American Airlines flight attendants and gate agents had decided not to assist me in making my flight.
I asked the gentleman behind me to block the aisle and carry my bag. I asked a woman in my row to carry my smaller bag. I requested that they each set the bags down against the wall in the round area right off the plane.
I then pulled myself out, and used the arm rests of the aisle seats like parallel bars, holding myself up and inching forward while dragging my feet behind me.
When I got the the end of the seats, I dropped to the filthy, nasty floor and pulled myself to the closet, where my wheelchair was stowed (upon my insistence – they didn’t want to do that either). I practically threw my chair out of the plane, then crawled out after it.
Hats off the the Phoenix wheelchair assistance team! Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport As soon as they realized what was going on, they helped me get my chair assembled, and raced me out of the jetway. I didn’t have time to get names, but one in particular even quickly pushed me so I could verify the gate number.
At this point, I had less than 10 minutes until the doors were supposed to close. My smart drive decided to be a dumb drive, and didn’t turn on once. I raced my way through the airport, and made it to the gate with minutes to spare…
Where there was no aisle chair waiting for me.
I immediately told them that I needed the closet empty for my chair, and I began crying out of humility, anger, and relief.
Humiliated that I was forced to choose between my dignity and making my flight.
Anger at the lack of compassion and honestly, the discrimination from the San Diego gate agents. Why was it okay to ignore my tight connection, but make sure that everyone else was able to get off to make theirs?
Relief because I made it. I was not going to have to find an accessible hotel, accessible transportation, and safe food.
Thank you to all those that helped me get there. You didn’t have to. But the right thing was more important to you than your own comfort for the two minutes you gave me.
To American Airlines, this needs to never happen again.
I have just as much of a right as anyone else to make my connection. I did not request that you hold all the passengers until I made it to my gate. I asked to be allowed to deplane first instead of last so that I had the opportunity to make it to my gate. To tell me that you had the good of all in mind was patently false. You had everyone’s good in mind but mine.
The sad thing is just last week, I sang your praises about how well you did.
– We cannot prioritize one passenger over another. We have to treat everyone equally.
– We would have assisted you if you were willing to wait. It’s a safety issue to bring on the aisle chair before everyone else deplanes, and we know that many wheelchair users don’t want to use the aisle chair with everyone watching.
– We will give you a $200 trip credit as a goodwill gesture. It was your choice to not wait.
American Airlines, you certainly did decide which passengers you valued. I do not feel that I was treated equally, as you called it.
If I had waited, I would have missed my flight. How is that equitable treatment? Also, I’m confused about the safety issue. That’s a cop out excuse. Especially since they DID get me off the plane first in San Antonio. And I clearly was willing to waive my RIGHT (not requirement) for a private deplaning experience.
You say you would have put me up in a hotel and made sure I had transportation. American Airlines, I have missed connections before. I had to fight to get a hotel. No accessible transportation was provided. Not one thing was done to make sure I’d have food safe for me. You are not good at taking care of passengers who are stranded for the night. Especially with how dismissively you treated me in San Diego, how could I possibly expect fair treatment and compensation in Phoenix?
A $200 trip credit is not reasonable compensation. Yes, I chose to make the flight I had booked. It was the last flight to San Antonio for the day, and again, I could not be sure I would be appropriately accommodated for the night.
A wheelchair user should be given the same chance to make a connection as anyone else.
About the author Kristy Durso: Entrepreneur, travel agent, disabilities advocate, and featured speaker Kristy Durso owns and operates Incredible Memories Travel, a full-service travel agency whose specialized niche is being the industry experts at special needs travel.