As I have covered previously, in April of this year I was honored to receive a support staff scholarship to attend the ACRL conference in Cleveland, Ohio. The Dean of Library Services at my library left the choice between preferred travel choice with me (air vs car). I chose air for several reasons, including 2 facts:
- I had never traveled via plane before
- A car ride from southeast Alabama to Ohio is looooooooooooooong
I had a wonderful time at the ACRL conference – in fact, it inspired me to begin “library school” (which I plan to start in Fall 2020). The air travel (via Delta) was a different story. I want to share my experience with everyone as a cautionary tale for those wheelchair-users like me out there who use air travel.
Below is an excerpt of the complaint I submitted to both Delta and the US Dpt of Transportation, where it is currently being investigated. The US Dpt of Transportation representative assigned to my case assured me that I could share my experience detailed here with the public. Anyone is welcome to share this story on social media.
Last month, I had to travel from my hometown of Dothan, AL to Cleveland, OH for a work conference. My husband traveled with me as an aid because I am wheelchair-bound. This was my first time flying, and I was incredibly nervous in everything going smoothly with embarking/disembarking from the plane as a person with a disability. We flew with Delta. Delta was contacted multiple times to ensure proper and safe care of me and my wheelchair. I was prepped beforehand of the wheelchair transfer process for each flight: they would have staff members safely transfer me from my wheelchair to a plane transfer chair and then to my plane seat, while my personal wheelchair would be stored with the plane luggage for the duration of the flight. I did not ask for any further accommodation beyond safely transferring me to/from my airplane seat, safely storing my personal wheelchair on the plane during the trip, a restroom break during layovers, and assistance in navigating the airport. I was assured not to worry about anything and that a Delta staff member would assist us through airport navigation from gate to gate. Me and my husband had tickets out of Dothan, Alabama to Cleveland, Ohio. Return passage also. Both flight paths had a one-hour layover in Atlanta, Georgia.
Trip from Dothan on April 9th, 2019:
The flight from Dothan to Atlanta was great. Everything was taken care of, and the process was very simple. However, when we arrived in Atlanta and after the other passengers disembarked from the plane, the airport staff went to go get my wheelchair for me. They lost it for a while. About 50 minutes! It was located eventually and returned to me. When everything was settled with that, we had about 10 minutes to get over to the correct flight gate for the connecting flight to Cleveland. The flight gate was on the opposite end of the airport so we had to take the Airport tram to it. There wasn’t really any staff there to help us except for one staff member who verbally gave us some vague directions. We ended up getting to the gate at the last possible minute. They let us board the plane of course. We were the last ones on the plane. There was a seat mix-up also when we got on the plane and we ended up not sitting in our assigned seats. This was more of an issue because (1) we were the last ones on the plane and (2) we were exhausted and didn’t bother to argue that two other passengers were sitting in our assigned seats.
Because of the delay in them losing my wheelchair and us having to hustle across the airport before we missed the flight, neither one of us, me and my husband, had time to go to the restroom or anything. We both had to go from boarding the plane leaving Dothan at about 10:30 till we ended up in Cleveland late that afternoon at 4pm before we could even use the restroom. It was pretty horrible and stressful. Not only that, I have certain medical needs, WHICH, AGAIN, DELTA WAS MADE VERY AWARE OF, and being denied access to a restroom for that amount of time could prove very dangerous to me. From Atlanta, we went to Cleveland, and everything at the Cleveland Airport went smoothly and calmly.
Return trip to Dothan on April 14th, 2019:
Leaving Cleveland was just as smooth as when we arrived, save for 1 fact: the staff members who were transferring me dropped me. Let me repeat that. THEY DROPPED ME ON THE GROUND. Whenever they dropped me, they had already transferred me into the transfer chair so that they could take me on to the plane and transfer me into my actual plane seat. They put me in the transfer chair but did not secure me with the seat belts in the transfer chair and as they took their hands off, my face hit the floor. This transfer chair is just like a weight-lifting bench seat (kind of) with wheels on it (of course) and a high back. There is not really any kind of suitable foot rest, and there are no sides. Without seatbelts, there is no way for me to even stay stable enough to not fall out. It did not hurt me. I was more shocked and embarrassed. But I kept thinking, what if it was somebody who could not go through that without breaking something or some other kind of major medical issue.
In Atlanta, there was some weather delays which put us back about an hour as far as arrival time. They didn’t lose my wheelchair this time, but they still took about 40 minutes to remember that they needed to assist me off of the plane after the other passengers had disembarked. We did have a staff member to assist us this time, and she helped us fly through the airport as quick as we could since there was a huge delay in helping me out of the plane. We ended up getting to our gate too late according to the original departure time for this connecting flight home. Luckily for us, the weather was not cooperating that day and ended up delaying the flight back to Dothan. Because of this, we lucked out, and when we got to the gate, the plane had not left yet. We had to wait for a while for the weather to clear up before we could board. Once we did, the rest of everything went well. We got back to Dothan safely.
The experiences we had with Delta were absolutely horrible. I was neglected the proper medical care I was promised from the airline and their ADA / Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA) compliance. Beyond that, I was denied basic common decency and treated as less than human. Better and respectable care must be provided for air passengers with disabilities in the future.