Questions arise from Neal’s airline issue

Oct 28, 2015
Tagged with: Questions arise from Neal’s airline issue

The 29-year-old man with cerebral palsy allegedly waited more than 30 minutes on a United Airlines plane parked at a Reagan International Airport gate while workers were supposed to bring an aisle wheelchair to his seat so he could get off the plane and go to the restroom. So, he decided to crawl down the aisle to disembark the plane and get his own wheelchair.

CNN (and several others) document more of the story’s details here:

At face value, it’s a horrifying story. As a person living with cerebral palsy (which affects everyone differently), I try to appreciate and respect that the average Joe Citizen isn’t malicious in his or her lack of knowledge about assistance I may need or social discomforts I may have. So when I read Neal’s story, I have questions.

I have questions because while we may desire and preach and hope for equality, we’re just not there yet. So we, as people with disabilities, must have a firm grasp on reality when navigating through a world not designed for us.

The CNN story on Neal claims it was too difficult for him to use the restroom on the plane. My question: Why book a direct flight? Connecting flights add a pit stop and eliminate the restroom problem.

Neal said he expected the flight attendants to ask to assist him when he decided to crawl down the aisle, “but they just stared.” My question: Did he ask for help? I’m a proud individual, but disability adds a wrinkle of humbleness that must be embraced. If you need help, ask. And if those flight attendants had proactively asked to help him, would he have been humble enough to accept?

After the incident, he went home rather than address the situation with United Airlines, “because I honestly didn’t believe they cared,” he said. My question: As a self-proclaimed disability advocate for nonprofit groups, shouldn’t Neal consider it his job to report this incident directly to the airline that can address it? Shouldn’t Neal use this as an educational moment?

Under no circumstance should anyone be stranded on an airplane. And the airline industry certainly operates in the stone age of accessibility (e.g., restrooms, aisle width, accessible seating, boarding). However, we as the disability community also must be proactive. Neal could have been proactive from booking his flight to communicating with flight attendants about assistance to addressing the matter through proper channels within United Airlines.

Living with a disability often becomes a battle for control. In Neal’s case, there was a lot more in his control than meets the eye.



Author: Josh pate

  • bobl07

    Outstanding perspective Josh! I have no problem people asking to help, but many times they will assume that you will ask for help if you need it. I agree with you in that regard, however, with all airlines being a customer service business they do need to ask as well. In the end, I agree with you that it is my responsibility as a person with a disability to ask for help. How would any one know 100% for certain if I need help? Only when I ask for help. How would they know how to help? Only by my instruction.

  • Josh Pate

    Exactly, Bob. I do feel like the airline industry is severely behind in accessibility per our own laws and simply social inclusion. But I hope people don’t confuse a mere lack of knowledge and understanding with malice – which I do not think is present in most situations like this one.