United Airlines has issued an official apology after a mix-up at a passenger gate forced a man with cerebral palsy to have to crawl from the plane.
CNN reported Sunday that D’Arcee Neal of Washington, D.C. returned home last week after a five-hour flight from San Francisco. Neal — who has cerebral palsy — is unable to use in-flight restroom facilities and after the long flight, he needed access to a toilet.
Normally, Neal would be met by airline personnel with a specially designed wheelchair for narrow flight cabins called an aisle chair. However, when his flight arrived, he was informed that an aisle chair had arrived for him at the gate, but was then taken away again. He was informed that it would take another 15 to 20 minutes for the device to be brought back — on top of the 20 minutes he had already waited while all of the other passengers disembarked.
“I was trying to get them to understand that this is why I don’t want to wait another 15 to 20 minutes,” said Neal, 29, who has worked for the organization United Cerebral Palsy (UCP) and was on his way back to D.C. from a meeting on disability access policy.
Neal was repeatedly told to wait. Finally, he lost patience and dragged himself up the passenger aisle as flight personnel looked on.
“I expected them to ask to assist me, but they just stared,” he said.
The aisle chair arrived after Neal had traversed the length of the cabin and was about to cross to the gangway.
United said in a statement, “As customers began to exit the aircraft, we made a mistake and told the agent with the aisle chair that it was no longer needed, and it was removed from the area. When we realized our error — that Mr. Neal was onboard and needed the aisle chair — we arranged to have it brought back, but it arrived too late.”
Neal said he left the airport as quickly as he could.
“I didn’t contact United at all, because I honestly didn’t believe they cared,” he said.
However, a flight attendant reported the incident to the company, appalled at how Neal had been treated. The next day a representative of the company phoned Neal to apologize.
“Quite frankly, I was just shocked, because this had happened a couple of times before (with various airlines), and no company had ever bothered to apologize when they’ve done something wrong,” he said.
The manager on duty when the incident took place has been suspended and the company offered Neal $300 compensation.
“I just hope they learn from this,” he told CNN.