·  Legal News, Analysis, & Commentary

Civil Rights

American Airlines Makes Disabled Woman Crawl

— June 16, 2015



American Airlines makes disabled woman crawl instead of providing her a wheelchair ramp to access her flight. Theresa Purcell, who lives with Charcot-Marie-Tooth’s disease, is confined to a wheelchair. On a recent flight from San Diego to Hawaii, Ms. Purcell asked the gate agent to set up a ramp that would allow her to board the plane.

The agent, epitomizing customer service, told Ms. Purcell that it was too late to get a ramp and, despite being advised of Ms. Purcell’s condition, refused the request for a ramp. Faced with the choice of missing her flight or making do, Ms. Purcell made do and suffered the humiliation of crawling up the stairs to the plane and then crawling to her seat. Apparently, those paragons of excellent service couldn’t even be bothered to meet her at the top of the stairs with her chair.

One would figure that some form of just compensation would be in order for this flagrant disregard for Ms. Purcell’s condition and needs. Hello! Americans with Disabilities Act, anyone? But no, even that was too much to ask of American Airlines. No comped flight, no vouchers, not even an extra back of pretzels.

Instead, American Airlines issued an apology saying that its employees didn’t give Ms. Purcell “attentive, courteous and professional service.” As you can expect, American’s apology didn’t make up for the humiliation and embarrassment she experienced. She filed suit against American Airlines asking for $75,000.

Lest anyone think that this is new behavior for American Airlines, it also made the news recently for refusing a wheelchair to cancer patient, Lisa Love. Ms. Love had just gone through chemotherapy and told the agent she was feeling quite weak, a fairly normal side effect of chemo.

The agent, exhibiting American Airlines’ stellar commitment to its customers, said Ms. Love looked “just fine” and ignored her request.

Personally, I hope Ms. Purcell’s case goes to trial. No settlements; I want a jury to see this woman and hear her case. I want her peers to look at American Airlines’ attorney and collectively say, “You have got to be kidding me!” I want them to give Ms. Purcell the $75k she’s asking for and then hit American Airlines with another $1M in punitive damages.

This is one of the most egregious and shocking displays of idiocy and corporate ill behavior I’ve seen lately. Regardless of the suit’s outcome, I can assure you that I will not be flying American Airlines again. I strongly encourage you to ignore them, too.


Lawsuit: Woman in wheelchair says she was forced to crawl onto plane

Join the conversation!