Airline Apologizes To Man With Cerebral Palsy Who Is Forced To Crawl Off Plane

Photo: Charles Polidano / Touch The Skies / Alamy Stock Photo.
Anyone who has ever had to hurry up and wait when getting on or off an airplane knows what an exercise in frustration it can be, even when everything goes well. But for one disabled passenger, the frustration turned into something much worse.

D’Arcee Neal, who has cerebral palsy and uses a wheelchair, was forced to crawl along the aisle when his United Airlines flight failed to provide the specialized wheelchair he needed to exit the plane. Ironically, Neal, 29, was flying home from a San Francisco meeting on disabled-accessibility policies. After an apparent mistake in which the special wheelchair designed to fit in the narrow aisle of an airplane was sent away, Neal was made to wait more than a half hour for the wheelchair to return. Eventually, he was forced to leave without the chair because he needed to use the restroom at the airline terminal — as airplane toilets are not accessible to him because of his condition.

According to Neal, flight attendants watched him crawl without offering assistance until he reached the gangway, where a wheelchair waited. Afterward, he went home without reporting the incident, but was surprised when he received an phone call from the airline the next day. "I didn't contact United at all, because I honestly didn't believe they cared," he told CNN. The airline reached out to apologize to Neal after a flight attendant reported what had happened. It also offered him a $300 compensation, which he accepted.

The Los Angeles Times suggests that Neal's story is indicative of a rise in complaints against airlines for their treatment of disabled passengers. The U.S. Department of Transportation reported more than 24,000 disability complaints against 36 U.S.-based air carriers in 2014, with over half of those complaints regarding the "failure to provide adequate assistance to persons using wheelchairs." In the past decade, the number of disability-related disputes against domestic carriers has nearly doubled, with 2014, the most recent year on record, showing a 9% increase.

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