Commentary

Editor's Note: Why is the ACAA Such a Mystery to Airlines?

Over the weekend, Cory Lee Woodard — known for his Curb Free with Cory Lee travel blog — posted to Instagram about what happened when his Delta Air Lines flight landed at Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport.

A Fox News story on Nov. 28 included Woodard’s Instagram post and a video taken from inside the plane while Woodard and his party waited for his power wheelchair to be brought from the plane’s cargo hold to the jet bridge.

Woodard, who has spinal muscular atrophy, travels extensively and has visited all seven continents. “By law, according to the Air Carrier Access Act, they are required to bring the wheelchair as close to the plane as possible, and you do not have to get off the plane until they do so,” he said in his Instagram post.

In the video, four Delta employees onboard the plane urged Woodard and his party to wait outside the aircraft, even though Woodard’s power chair had not been delivered.

The travel party remained calm and conciliatory. “We’ll wait on the Red Coat; it’s fine, it’s no big deal,” one of Woodard’s companions told the onboard employees, referring to what Delta calls its “elite airport customer service experts.”

In contrast, the Delta employees were annoyed and increasingly surly. One employee specifically told a coworker not to call a Red Coat to assist.

“We just need his chair,” a companion said, when employees wanted Woodard to wait indefinitely in an aisle chair outside the aircraft.

Finally, one employee said, “They’re going to make you get off the aircraft. They’re going to have their guns and stuff, and they’re going to make you get off the aircraft.”

Woodard stayed onboard until his power chair was delivered to the jet bridge a short time later.

While the entire incident was offensive — “people with guns” sounds like a threat, Delta — my biggest question is why this happened at all.

Why aren’t Delta employees trained in Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA) policies? Or at least, in this WiFi age of being able to use cell phones moments after a plane’s landing gear touches earth, why doesn’t Delta have an Intranet page or in-house expert for its untrained employees to call on? Like this:

Delta employee: Hey, Laurie*, we have a passenger who’s still onboard and insisting that we bring his power wheelchair to him. He’s refusing to let us push him off the airplane in an aisle chair and dump him at a gate. He says he has rights under the ACAA. We vaguely told him about “people with guns,” but he’s not moving because he says he’s right. Is he right?

ACAA Expert Laurie*: Yup.

*Not necessarily the expert’s real name.

Instead of knowing their responsibilities under the ACAA — or instead of calling someone who does know the airline’s responsibilities — the four Delta employees stood around, complained, and badgered paying passengers. Really? And Delta’s not alone in this general ignorance of the rights of passengers with disabilities. Why?

The one bright spot: This incident hasn’t slowed Woodard down. When I reached out to him, he wasn’t immediately available. “I am on vacation in Hawaii,” his out-of-office reply said.

Editor’s note: Delta did not immediately reply to our request for comment.

 

About the Author

Laurie Watanabe is the editor of Mobility Management. She can be reached at lwatanabe@1105media.com.

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