Delta passenger with muscular dystrophy forced to crawl off plane

Earlier this month I posted on a husband who had to carry his wheelchair-bound wife onto a Ryanair flight after the airline failed to make sure the proper equipment — in this case, an Ambulift — was available at the plane during boarding. The Ambulift never showed up.

While we can debate all day whether the airline’s crew in this case could have done something else to help, what we cannot debate is that amid all this discussion about what is and what is not in the job description of airline crew, it is undeniably a part of the job to make sure that disabled passengers are accommodated during the boarding and de-planing process.

A woman named Julianna, who has muscular dystrophy, says she found herself having to crawl down the steps off a Delta Airlines flight July 20 in an effort to make a connecting flight after it took the airline more than 30 minutes to produce a wheelchair and lift.

Her flight landed in Atlanta at 7:30 p.m. Her connecting flight departed at 8:05 p.m. Her wheelchair showed up at…8:05 p.m.

At one point, Julianna says flight crew members told her she might end up making the connection if she stopped standing around waiting for help. How busy they were trying to track down that chair is unclear.

Her ordeal continued for the next several hours. Delta agents haggled about whose job it was to push Julianna around in her wheelchair as she got re-ticketed (obviously she missed her connection) and assigned to a new gate. The Delta ground crew members who were supposed to be on call for such a task apparently weren’t answering their stations.

When Julianna reached her final destination, West Palm Beach, again Delta did not have a wheelchair waiting, and she crawled onto the shuttle bus, she says.

No doubt there will be finger pointing about whose responsibility it was to help Julianna, and who dropped the ball. There always is during these incidents of apparent incompetence. The flight crew? The ground crew?

Perhaps Julianna is exaggerating the incident, as irate travelers can. But either the wheelchairs were waiting for her, or they were not.

If, as it appears, they were not, then Delta Airlines dropped the ball, regardless of who specifically you pin it on.

There are few excuses I can think of for not having wheelchairs waiting for passengers who need them.

Forced to crawl, Julianna is justified in venting her disgust, as she does in a letter to Delta CEO Richard Anderson excerpted on the consumer advocacy Web site The Consumerist.

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