Motivational Speaker Kicked Off Plane As “Too Disabled to Fly”

Nov 09, 2010
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Johnnie Tuitel is an advocate and motivation speaker with cerebral palsy who was traveling to a give a speech in Kansas City to the National Self Advocacy Conference about people with disabilities. Johnnie’s wheelchair had been tagged, taken to be loaded as baggage, and he was already seated when a U.S. Airways gate agent returned with a narrow aisle chair to take Johnnie off the plane. Johnnie said people were pointing and staring at him. He was embarrassed and “humiliated” when U.S. Airways removed him from the flight because he was “too disabled to fly.”

Johnnie told WZZM-TV, “He told me I could fly on U.S. Airways if I could find a companion to go with me because I was a danger to myself and others if something went wrong. Trust me, they made a mistake.”

47-year-old Johnnie has cerebral palsy and uses a wheelchair to get around. Johnnie drives his own vehicle from his wheelchair, and navigates everywhere on his own and has done so for the last 20 years. He’s even been bungee jumping! He flies from city to city, has been around the globe, making his living as a motivational speaker and author. Johnnie is well known as “America’s Pioneer Handicapitalist.” He’s flown by himself hundreds of time and has flown over half a million miles without needing a companion. Johnnie said if he were forced to always bring a companion, his costs would double. He’d have to buy an extra airline ticket, pay for an extra hotel room and meals for a second person during conferences.

A spokesman for U.S. Airways said the ground attendant had followed airline guidelines for passengers with disabilities. “The airline requires that the passenger has to be physically able to assist himself or herself in the event of an emergency. If the passenger cannot, the airline requires that someone else travels with the passenger who can provide assistance in the event of an emergency.”

What’s next, barring the elderly, children, or pets from flying? In this case, the airline picked on the wrong person. Johnnie spends his life focusing on ability and opportunity. His story caused quite a sensation and now U.S. Airways has asked Johnnie to fly without a companion to their corporate office to review their policy regarding passengers with disabilities.

Johnnie has a can-do attitude. He refuses to be a victim of U.S. Airways or life. He could have sued but instead he agreed to work with U.S. Airways for positive change. Johnnie Tuitel’s motto is “handicapitalism,” meaning people with disabilities can earn and make money, can overcome obstacles, can ask for help when they need it, can travel, can create a successful life, and can give back to the community.

Author: Tessa



  • Avaldes

    Hooray for Johnnie! You are a hero on so many levels! You are a true inspiration! Thank you!