D’Arcee Neal found himself caught in a humiliating situation, one that highlights the issues that still exist in terms of air travel for physically challenged individuals.
WRC-TV reports that Neal had flown from San Francisco, arriving at Reagan National Airport in Arlington, Virginia, on Tuesday evening. D’Arcee, who has cerebral palsy, waited for a wheelchair for 15 minutes, as other passengers exited the plane, but none was forthcoming. He then asked when he would be wheelchaired out. He was told to wait. An additional 15 minutes passed and nothing.
There had been a mix-up at the gate, resulting in D’Arcee’s wheelchair being taken away at the gate — a new one had to be found. The problem was that Neal didn’t have the luxury of time. D’Arcee Neal had to use the bathroom badly, and because of his condition, using the airplane’s bathroom is practically impossible.
— New Day (@NewDay) October 27, 2015
CNN quotes Neal as explaining he “was trying to get them to understand that” because he really needed the bathroom, he “didn’t want to wait another 15 to 20 minutes.” Unable to wait any longer without risking further embarrassment, D’Arcee moved out of his seat and crawled down the aisle and off the plane. “I mean, it’s humiliating,” said Neal. “No one should have to do what I did.”
“Half the time, I feel like airlines treat people with disabilities as a secondary concern.”
This belief is unfortunately sadly confirmed by what happens next.
After D’Arcee had crawled from the plane to the gangway, he saw his wheelchair. But none of the flight crew moved to help him.
“I expected them to ask to assist me, but they just stared.”
Yes, these United Airlines “professionals” just stared and stared as D’Arcee Neal struggled to get himself into the wheelchair. The demoralizing spectacle over, he was able to continue on his way. That would have been the end of it. At least, as far as Neal was concerned, that was the end of it. “I didn’t contact United at all,” he explained, “because I honestly didn’t believe they cared.”
However, someone did care. One of the flight attendants was very upset about the incident and felt a great deal amount of guilt concerning how they observed Neal being treated. This person felt so strongly about the incident that a report was made to United Airlines. A day after his flight, Neal was surprised to get a call from a United Airlines representative, apologizing for what happened.
“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.”
The representative explained that the manager on duty was suspended. Neal was also offered $300 in compensation, which he accepted. United Airlines has since released a statement, officially attempting to explain the nature of the mix-up and what went wrong.
“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.”
United Airlines also wanted to emphasize that this was a rare situation, one that “doesn’t reflect the level of service we provide to customers with disabilities each day.” The airline also emphasized that it has “a 24-hour disability desk to answer questions” or make necessary arrangements.
— New Day (@NewDay) October 27, 2015
In the meantime, D’Arcee Neal admits he’s been contacted about joining a class action lawsuit against the airline industry. He’s reportedly considering joining the legal battle against airlines like United that aren’t necessarily as efficient as they can be in avoiding situations like this.
[Image via D’Arcee Neal / Facebook]