Update: Southwest has offered a statement (see below).
Today, we want to bring attention to an issue that needs it: the right of the severely handicapped to book and take a commercial flight inside the United States. As of this writing, airlines like Air New Zealand use what’s called an Eagle Lift to safely move severely disabled passengers from their wheelchairs to airline seats and back. But not all airlines, and especially airlines in the U.S., make the Eagle Lift available.
Jon Morrow, who has brittle bones and a fused spine and is wheelchair-bound, wrote JohnnyJet.com over the weekend to share his experience being denied the right to safe boarding by Southwest. Jon knew well that Southwest—like other airlines in the U.S.—doesn’t make the Eagle Lift available, so he decided to buy one himself. Again at his own expense, he had his caregivers trained to use it, and only then did he book three seats aboard a Southwest flight that departs tomorrow, May 14, and—via an exchange with staff—receive airline permission to fly with his device.
Now, he writes on Facebook, Southwest has rescinded its permission and is refusing to let him fly with his Eagle Lift. Instead, he is being offered assistance transferring to his seat from airline staff, despite the fact that he has “a letter from [his] physician stating that it would be EXTREMELY dangerous to transfer [him] by hand on an airplane.” If that won’t suffice, he says, the airline “will call the fire department. Yes, the fire department.”
The result is a policy that in effect prohibits a segment of severely handicapped people from flying. “They don’t say you can’t fly” writes Jon. “That would be blatantly illegal. Instead, they make it impossible for you to safely board the plane.”
Below is Jon’s post on Facebook. Let’s help him and his story get Southwest’s attention.
Update: Here’s Southwest’s statement on the situation:
“Southwest Airlines takes pride in making air travel accessible to Customers who require assistance when flying with us and is committed to full compliance with regulations under the Air Carrier Access Act. In this instance, the Customer was informed that we do not have boarding procedures for the safe use of his personal Eagle Lift device nor do our Employees have training for storage of the device. This final decision was made after reviewing the device’s specifications and the requirements for transporting it and the Customer safely. However, we have been in contact with the manufacturer of this device to learn more about the device’s unique handling and storage requirements. We remain committed to extending our legendary Southwest Hospitality to every Customer who chooses to fly with us, and we take great measures to comply with all federal accessibility requirements.”