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Flying the Unhelpful Skies
April 12, 2010 11:35 AM   Subscribe

Disabled traveler Rachel D. took a harrowing flight with United recently. Despite their stated policy, she was told repeatedly that "It's not in our contract to assist passengers with their luggage and we reserve the right to refuse assistance to anyone." This is not the first time United has had a problem with disabled people. (For reference, the federal Air Carrier Access Act that prohibits discrimination towards disabled passencers.)
posted by restless_nomad (102 comments total) 5 users marked this as a favorite

 
I guess they not only break guitars.
posted by charles kaapjes at 11:44 AM on April 12, 2010 [2 favorites]


Passenger airline industry is optimized for maximum throughput of people. Between themselves the airlines have been fighting a price war, and consumers have little say in it, because everybody wants to fly. Cheap tickets are nice; meanwhile, quality of service goes out the window.
posted by polymodus at 11:52 AM on April 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


Airlines have crappy service, and United may be the worst among them. They break many of their stated policies and treat many of their passengers worse than cattle. They don't treat their employees much better. United once caused me (and something like 200 other people) to miss a flight overseas so as not to damage their "ontime record" by something like 5 minutes. Consequently, I had to wait until the next day after that to catch a flight, and as a result, I missed the flight after that - the last one to my destination for three days - and ended up having to pay for a total of three unexpected and expensive nights in a hotel and for a ticket for a 11-hour train journey to make up for the last missed flight (for which I couldn't get a refund.) In all, United's lack of common sense and customer service cost me half a week and about $1200. They did offer me a $12 food voucher . . . but they were out.

I wrote them, but they never responded. And this despite the fact that I fly with them about 15 times a year. I know enough other frequent fliers to know this is common, so while mistreatment of the disabled seems especially grievous, Rachel D's flight doesn't seem very unusual or harrowing, just par for the course, really.
posted by Dee Xtrovert at 11:56 AM on April 12, 2010


consumers have little say in it

Well, I can clarify this too. If you as a consumer choose a bad carrier based on your frequent flyer miles, you're merely enabling their bad behavior. Remember, customer loyalty systems are not directly for your benefit.
posted by polymodus at 11:58 AM on April 12, 2010


Ugh. This kind of shit makes me so angry. I already boycott United because of an incident a few years ago, so, unfortunately, not suprised, but thoroughly disguisted.
posted by buzzkillington at 11:58 AM on April 12, 2010


quality of service goes out the window.

It's interesting that there isn't even a pretense of service in many situations. For instance, this person's conversation with the supervisor Dina, who stated their policy and the legal justification and refused to apologize. I can understand having to represent a policy handed down from on-high, but there is no reason to treat a paying customer so rudely that you won't even make the slightest effort in a conversation to be polite and sympathetic, particularly when that customer did nothing wrong at all and suffered due to their policy.
posted by krinklyfig at 11:59 AM on April 12, 2010 [2 favorites]


I think my outrage meter is broken, 'cuz this didn't move it a whole lot.

Yes, she's disabled, I'm sure she was in pain... but the picture that developed in my mind as I read her account of what happened didn't make me grab my sword to go fight the United Dragon.

Some of this was poor planning on her part (I've always arranged IN ADVANCE when I needed a wheelchair for a passenger I was flying with, not at the gate or ticket counter). She also took a bit of a passive aggressive approach about getting her bag stowed... ok, the asshat stew didn't want to do it, instead you leave it half in the aisle and let it trip people.. why not just frigging ask a guy to help, I bet any one of them would have done it with no complaint... She could have still filed her complaint about how she was treated...

Yeah, yeah, big companies suck at service....yada,yada,yada
posted by HuronBob at 11:59 AM on April 12, 2010 [8 favorites]


Airports may be the only place left in America where all classes of people converge. With the exception of the extremely poor, who never fly, and the extremely rich, who never fly commercial, basically everyone is reliant on the same network of hubs and spokes.

The general "fattening" of American was earliest represented as a fight over the armrest and I would be surprised if more potential conflicts weren't first recognized in an airport.
posted by 2bucksplus at 12:07 PM on April 12, 2010 [2 favorites]


"What the customer describes is unacceptable. We are working to reach her to offer apology, & identifying the employees involved."
about 2 hours ago via web
So, maybe more at 11.
posted by jamaro at 12:08 PM on April 12, 2010


Some of this was poor planning on her part

Maybe. But the way she was treated throughout by the United staff, especially "Dina" at SFO, was reprehensible. I think this was a little beyond the usual "big companies suck at service" rant.

That said, SFO is probably one of the two or three worst airports in the United States, so if "Dina" was SFO-based, her behavior doesn't surprise me much.
posted by blucevalo at 12:10 PM on April 12, 2010 [3 favorites]


Rachel D. comes across as someone who wears their disability on their sleeve, LOOKING for someone to not treat her with the courtesy and respect she so truly deserves.

I'm not saying that to belittle her condition or to mock the plight of people with handicaps, but... There's a difference between having a disability and using it for an undue advantage - even if that advantage is the acknowledgement of it's existence by others. But who knows? SFO is a big airport, I sure wouldn't want to walk through the whole thing if I didn't have to! Point is, her whole article is full of an evil empire against her at all turns... something's just not quite 'right'. Maybe I'm being overly cynical.

I'm sure there's more than just a couple of grains of truth to her story, but it's her story from her vantage point, so I'll withhold judgement against the airline until their side comes out.

I've been in the aviation industry a long time - hearing any story where a customer service rep says they're 'not sorry and won't apologize' for what happened to her - especially given the current status of the industry - ushers in a 'fishy-factor' to me.
posted by matty at 12:10 PM on April 12, 2010 [12 favorites]


She also took a bit of a passive aggressive approach about getting her bag stowed... ok, the asshat stew didn't want to do it, instead you leave it half in the aisle and let it trip people.

Yeah, her handling of this and her reaction to the other passengers' reaction to her bag being in the aisle was not great. I'm sure it sucks to have to ask people for help, but the passengers didn't have any way to know that her bag was parked in the aisle due to her disability. I probably would have assumed she was an obnoxious person for leaving her bag there.

United's actions were pretty bad, but it sounds like she might have gotten caught in the cross-fire between some kind of union/management conflict, with all of Dina's references to a contract. Not that it justifies refusing to provide an accommodation. It was just weird how aggressively unhelpful Dina was.
posted by Mavri at 12:12 PM on April 12, 2010


Many years ago, my father took a flight on United and had to check his motorized wheelchair. The chair was supposed to be tied down but wasn't secured. At the end of a very turbulent flight, it was given back to him badly dented, cracked and damaged, with a broken and badly leaking battery.

The luggage handler who returned it to him insisted that it had been given to them in that condition. Lots of yelling ensued. A supervisor was called over who also insisted that the wheelchair could not have been damaged when it was put aboard the plane.

It was only after my father began taking names and threatening to sue the airline that the supervisor admitted that there was no way the airline would have agreed to take a wheelchair that was leaking battery acid aboard a flight.

Dad filed a claim which they tried to deny three times. Eventually, months later, they replaced the chair for him.

I don't fly United.
posted by zarq at 12:13 PM on April 12, 2010 [24 favorites]


wow. what the hell is wrong with people?? United sounds fukcing horrible to fly and not too great to work for, either. supervisor Dina should realize a little compassion goes a long way. If she had simply apologized and expressed some sympathy, even on a personal level, it may have helped defuse the situation, not to mention it was just the right thing to do. The situation, however, sucks. God forbid any of those half-assed United people ever end up disabled and need some help from their fellow human beings. You can bet I won't be flying United. Ever.
posted by phogirl at 12:16 PM on April 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


There's a difference between having a disability and using it for an undue advantage

what? if there's an advantage to being in a wheelchair, please let us know what that is.

I do agree that her tone is a little strident and the story is a little off. It's just odd that THAT many people were rude to her for no gain to themselves. I can understand one jerk or one person having a bad day, but to encounter a half-dozen in a matter of a few hours does strain credibility.

Also, the "not the first time" link is disingenuous because it's a totally different situation not involving passengers.
posted by desjardins at 12:18 PM on April 12, 2010 [5 favorites]


People who don't help the disabled/elderly/pregnant while in transit are assholes. Refusing to help a disabled customer/passenger when it's your job to do so makes you a DOUBLE ASSHOLE.

SFO is a big airport, I sure wouldn't want to walk through the whole thing if I didn't have to!

Especially not with a spinal injury and not so much being able to walk (the entry was unclear on if she has any mobility without using the chair) like she has, huh?
posted by jtron at 12:19 PM on April 12, 2010 [6 favorites]


Yeah, her handling of this and her reaction to the other passengers' reaction to her bag being in the aisle was not great. I'm sure it sucks to have to ask people for help, but the passengers didn't have any way to know that her bag was parked in the aisle due to her disability. I probably would have assumed she was an obnoxious person for leaving her bag there.

None of this would have happened if she had been assisted properly in the first place.
posted by krinklyfig at 12:19 PM on April 12, 2010 [13 favorites]


There's a difference between having a disability and using it for an undue advantage

what? if there's an advantage to being in a wheelchair, please let us know what that is.


Half-price bus fare? Fellow adults being condescending to you if they "notice" you at all? Not being able to run up stairs to avoid Daleks? Wait, that's not an advantage at all...
posted by jtron at 12:23 PM on April 12, 2010 [8 favorites]



Rachel D. comes across as someone who wears their disability on their sleeve, LOOKING for someone to not treat her with the courtesy and respect she so truly deserves.


Hey Matty:

I'm confined to a wheelchair, so you can keep that in mind as you read this rant.

What the flying fuck is wrong with you? I am so disgusted with your comment that I am yay close to shutting my metafilter account so I never, never, never have to see your awfulness again.

Instead, flagged, I am moving the fuck on, and, hey Matty, I hope you have a really great fucking day.
posted by angrycat at 12:29 PM on April 12, 2010 [25 favorites]


Wow. One, what the fuck, United? Two, what the fuck, Metafilter? Seriously? The first card that some of you pull out here is the "Blame the Victim" card? That some of you take a look at what is the story of a woman in pain, upset, and distraught, and only think that she is some attention hungry trouble maker? Seriously?


As someone who has the potential to become disabled well before I appear elderly, and who has days that I nearly do require a cane already before I'm 30, this just stuns me. I've already experienced people belittling my problems walking or standing for long periods of time by saying that I'm young and healthy and can do it if I try. (Oh yeah? Wanna see my x-rays? It ain't pretty, asshole.) How can people be so inconsiderate, cruel, and rude? Simply because someone is younger, or doesn't appear to match your definition of disabled doesn't mean you can chose to ignore their disability, or worse, belittle them like the CSR at SFO did to this poor woman.
posted by strixus at 12:30 PM on April 12, 2010 [20 favorites]


I can understand one jerk or one person having a bad day, but to encounter a half-dozen in a matter of a few hours does strain credibility.

I fly a lot and I can believe this from an airline easier than I can from almost any other service. Bill Bryson said something to the effect of, "You must bear in mind that big companies do not like you very much, except airlines and Microsoft, which don't like you at all."
posted by ricochet biscuit at 12:31 PM on April 12, 2010 [15 favorites]


United once caused me (and something like 200 other people) to miss a flight overseas so as not to damage their "ontime record" by something like 5 minutes.

You don't give the full details of this. Was your incoming flight late and United refused to hold the next flight for you? That is standard practice for most airlines. If you were told the reason was not to damage their "ontime record by five minutes," then you were either misinformed or misunderstood. Airlines try to send their flights out on time because if they don't the follow-on effects in terms of plane and crew positioning can be a lot longer than five minutes. For example, if a flight crew is delayed just a few minutes, then they may no longer be legal to fly at some point, requiring an expensive substitution, and a delay of perhaps hours.

Many flight attendants are instructed by their employers not to lift items into and out of the overhead bins, and if they do so they will not receive workers comp if they are injured. I don't know if United has an exception for disabled passengers. Saying they will help you stow your luggage does not necessarily mean that they will help you stow it above.

While I don't doubt the narrative in general, I find the verbatim "quoted" details of what the employees said incredibly unlikely. I can't remember ever hearing someone working in aviation refer to a flight attendant as a "stewardess." The "I won't apologize for her actions and I'm not sorry for what happened to you" rings untrue to me as well.
posted by grouse at 12:32 PM on April 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


You know, when a company starts acting like this, they are not long for this world, so when I read this thread, I Googled 'united merger', and this was the snippet for the second result:

Apr 9, 2010 ... If United is successful in its efforts to merge with US Airways, ... Continental is rumored to be rethinking a United merger. ...

The disgraceful rationale for this kind of behavior is that in advance of a predictable takeover, managers of the target company get word from on high that they are to do anything and everything to make next quarter's earnings look as good as possible regardless of damage to the brand reputation, because that will increase the amount everyone will get for their stock.
posted by jamjam at 12:32 PM on April 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


There's a difference between having a disability and using it for an undue advantage

Yeah, upon re-reading that it doesn't come across how I meant it.

The concept I was trying to convey was that by her own admission she doesn't appear 'obviously disabled' - so there's a difference between her reality and other's perception. She may just appear to some people as taking advantage of, and demanding of, the kindness of others when she doesn't really need or warrant it.
posted by matty at 12:34 PM on April 12, 2010


hearing any story where a customer service rep says they're 'not sorry and won't apologize' for what happened to her - especially given the current status of the industry

Actually, it rings pretty darn true to me. If you're implying that the airline industry is going out of its way to treat customers decently because of its "current status," I think there's tons of evidence to refute that assertion, and to argue just the opposite.

Rachel D. comes across as someone who wears their disability on their sleeve

How exactly does someone wear her disability "on her sleeve"? I'm curious.
posted by blucevalo at 12:34 PM on April 12, 2010 [2 favorites]


She may just appear to some people as taking advantage of, and demanding of, the kindness of others when she doesn't really need or warrant it.

The fact that you imply that somebody is not entitled to the "kindness of others" just because she is another human being speaks volumes.
posted by blucevalo at 12:36 PM on April 12, 2010 [13 favorites]


Rachel D. comes across as someone who wears their disability on their sleeve, LOOKING for someone to not treat her with the courtesy and respect she so truly deserves.

Yeah, man. Disabled people got it so good. WTF with expecting a free ride? Bootstraps, man, bootstraps. We live in the US of A, and that's how we do things here.

She's probably a welfare queen too.

HAMBURGER
posted by Ouisch at 12:37 PM on April 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


It's just odd that THAT many people were rude to her for no gain to themselves. I can understand one jerk or one person having a bad day, but to encounter a half-dozen in a matter of a few hours does strain credibility.

In October of 2008 I broke my knee pretty spectacularly in an auto accident. For 16 weeks - through the holiday season and first snow here in Maine - I was unable to put any weight at all on that leg, and for another 8-10 weeks I was only able to walk short distances and lived in fear of falling on ice.

Having had that experience, I don't doubt one bit of her story. What I learned from my experience is that most people are jerks, especially if you don't "look disabled" and/or they think you're somehow getting an "unfair" advantage.

Just as an example: because it was the holiday season, I had to make a couple trips to the mall. In order to do this, we used the electric scooters from customer service & stow my crutches there awaiting my return. Because I am overweight, I would joke with my husband, telling him I should get a "not too fat to walk" sign to hang on my back, because so many, many people treated me with utter disdain once I was on that scooter. It wasn't unusual for people to do even simple rude things, like actively refuse to hold the bathroom door open for me. ("Can you hold that door" "no") And I won't even try to start to get into the challenges of managing a toddler, a scooter, and a big crowd of people.

I suspect the key to this is that she somehow wasn't disabled enough - or at least not obviously enough - for people to take her seriously.
posted by anastasiav at 12:38 PM on April 12, 2010 [23 favorites]


Also, the "not the first time" link is disingenuous because it's a totally different situation not involving passengers.

Yeah, sorry, that wasn't framed as well as it could have been. I meant it to be a possible indicator of a certain corporate culture, but it came across as just trying to draw an equivalence. (I also wanted to work this in, but it seemed like a bit of a stretch at that point.)
posted by restless_nomad at 12:41 PM on April 12, 2010


Between themselves the airlines have been fighting a price war, and consumers have little say in it, because everybody wants to fly.

Consumers have every bit of say in it, which is why flying is the way it is. What infrequent fliers care about, and *ONLY* care about, is the marquee price.

Not the actual price. The advertised, one-way, (taxes and fees extra) price. Why do you think RyanAir is still in business? It is almost never cheaper to fly RyanAir, between all the added on fees and the fact that you often land at an airport that is only vaguely near the city that you thought you were flying to, and yet, they still get pax who think they're saving money because they only paid a few bucks for the flight.

So, that's why flying is lousy -- because that's what your paying for, and that's what you are clearly telling the airlines you want. RyanAir want to start charging to use the lav. Spirit Airlines wants to start charging for carryon luggage. And yet, people fly them because they're "cheaper." At the end of the day, they're almost never cheaper, between the fees and the travel from the godforsaken airports they use, but yet, that's what sells, and the airline that doesn't charge you that, and flies you to the close in airport, loses pax, thus, revenue, thus, they start cutting service to keep the fares down. Lather, rinse, repeat.

So that's why there's a price war and a race to cut services. Because services don't sell. Only price sells. Period, end of statement.

This mightily annoys those of us who fly all the time and understand that service is an important thing, as is non-stops, the ability to carry bags on*, and you know, we'd really prefer our cabin crew to be pleasant. But that's what you want, so that's what we get.

Tired of it? Don't fly, or pay more to fly, and it'll better for all of us.

* We hate checking bags not because of fees, and not because the airline might lose them, we hate checking bags because that's an extra 30 minutes of our life between checking and getting the bag back. 50 flights a year, that's 25 hours of life gone by checking bags.
posted by eriko at 12:41 PM on April 12, 2010 [8 favorites]


"I suspect the key to this is that she somehow wasn't disabled enough - or at least not obviously enough - for people to take her seriously."

Anastasiav eloquently stated what I apparently wasn't able to convey.

My apologies if I offended anyone - wasn't my intent.
posted by matty at 12:42 PM on April 12, 2010


Nice attempt to backpedal, matty.

Look, it doesn't matter HOW she appears. What matters is the fact that she is in fact disabled. She had all the proper documentation. She tried to make all the arrangements she needed (though admittedly, didn't do some things she could have - but this is NOT a perfect world and we shouldn't hold that against her). In response, all she got was apathy, rudeness, and cruelty.

I've never understood people who automatically assume someone who claims a disability is "faking it" for attention or benefits. There aren't any damned benefits to being disabled. End of story. It makes life hard, miserable, and downright horrible sometimes to be disabled - ESPECIALLY if you happen to be someone who is young, or doesn't have a visible disability.

Hell, even a visible disability sometimes isn't enough. I've had people yell - YELL - at me to get off an elevator to make room for someone older, when I was standing there with a cane and had just limped on to the elevator.

Honestly, I think most people who assume every disabled person is faking it to some degree must be either have some pathological psychological issue, or are simply willfully ignorant.
posted by strixus at 12:44 PM on April 12, 2010 [10 favorites]


Rachel D. comes across as someone who wears their disability on their sleeve, LOOKING for someone to not treat her with the courtesy and respect she so truly deserves.

Did we read the same blog entry? She comes across as someone who needed a bit of a hand because she was disabled, who was subsequently treated like shit by airline personnel. Please explain exactly why her sense that as a disabled passenger she might be entitled to help and assistance from airline staff is wrong?

There's a difference between having a disability and using it for an undue advantage - even if that advantage is the acknowledgement of it's existence by others.

She wasn't trying to get people to acknowledge that she was disabled. She was trying to get them to HELP HER.

But who knows? SFO is a big airport, I sure wouldn't want to walk through the whole thing if I didn't have to!

"Unable" and "unwilling" are not equivalent. But you're doing a bang-up job not mocking her disability there, matty.

Point is, her whole article is full of an evil empire against her at all turns... something's just not quite 'right'. Maybe I'm being overly cynical.

At least three people who work for the airline displayed a clear insensitivity and unwillingness to help her, despite the fact that she told them she was disabled and needed assistance that was not unreasonable. If that had happened to me, I'd be speculating openly that such behavior was either corporate policy or inherent to the airline's corporate culture.

I've been in the aviation industry a long time

Considering your response, I feel compelled to ask if this problem is restricted to United or if there are other airlines with employees who don't feel the need to offer assistance their disabled passengers? When a passenger tells a flight attendant that they are disabled, that flight attendant should not be making a mental judgement that "they don't look it and can therefore fend for themself."
posted by zarq at 12:44 PM on April 12, 2010 [9 favorites]


None of this would have happened if she had been assisted properly in the first place.

I completely agree. My point was just that she doesn't distinguish between people who are refusing help after she's requested it, and people who have no reason to know she needs help in the first place. United handled her situation very badly, and she is justified in being very angry at them, but the other passengers really didn't do anything wrong. She seems to want people to offer her help, but I don't think that's realistic, especially since she apparently has an invisible disability.
posted by Mavri at 12:45 PM on April 12, 2010


I suspect the key to this is that she somehow wasn't disabled enough - or at least not obviously enough - for people to take her seriously.

I guess the reason I have a hard time believing her story is that I have the exact opposite experience - I'm not disabled, but people often assume I am, and it's very common for complete strangers to offer to help me.
posted by desjardins at 12:46 PM on April 12, 2010


She may just appear to some people as taking advantage of, and demanding of, the kindness of others when she doesn't really need or warrant it.

Undoubtedly she does appear healthier than she is. I'm sure that does not excuse the treatment she received. Probably when she's been dealing with this longer her strategies for giving people a heads up for her condition will improve, but it's still the airline's responsibility to either help her or determine why she doesn't need the help that she claims she does.

Yes this is burdensome on United staff who are already perhaps too busy to help, but they are busy because United is more focussed on their bottom line than on putting the resources in place to deal with their legal and ethical requirements.
posted by BrotherCaine at 12:48 PM on April 12, 2010


I'm curious about this:
The wheelchair left me off at the door and after making sure I had all of my belongings, he turned around and left. I boarded the plane and made my way back to my aisle seat..
I assume she can walk. How does someone who can't walk get down the narrow aisle to their seat, does someone carry them, special wheelchair, special seat?
posted by stbalbach at 12:50 PM on April 12, 2010


"Sorry, I threw out my back yesterday, could you stow this carry-on for me?"

I'm extremely skeptical that line wouldn't work on the majority of people. It's really shitty that United's employees seemed to be such assholes to her, but allowing herself to get continually jarred by passers-by is self-victimization. United is responsible for putting her in a bad situation in the first place, but she's also responsible for not developing some basic interpersonal strategies to get help in these kinds of situations.
posted by 0xFCAF at 12:54 PM on April 12, 2010 [10 favorites]


special wheelchair

Usually this. When you get on or off a plane with a person with a wheelchair on it, you may see a very narrow wheelchair that is the width of the aisle. People move from their personal wheelchair to this wheelchair, move to their seat and then their wheelchair is gate checked [usually] and I'm not certain what happens to the skinny wheelchair. I had a friend who flew often who used a wheelchair to get around and she was always a little nervous being in a plane seat and being unable to move out of it. I don't remember what the procedure was if she had to get up and go to the bathroom i assume the skinny wheelchair was someplace on the plane.
posted by jessamyn at 12:55 PM on April 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


On a flight my dad was on (and was unable to walk) - the flight crew carried him to his seat when he was unable to walk. It was actually super sweet of them, cause that man's not light, and I think up to that point he'd been trying to hide the severity of his leg injury from my mom, so she wouldn't cancel the trip to the family reunion.

Just a data point.
posted by anitanita at 12:57 PM on April 12, 2010


She also took a bit of a passive aggressive approach about getting her bag stowed... ok, the asshat stew didn't want to do it, instead you leave it half in the aisle and let it trip people..

Have you been on an airplane? Or seen pictures? An airplane is a narrow metal tube with wings on, filled with as many seats as possible. There is a small strip of walking space in the middle about the width of a single person, and very limited space between each row of seats.

Since the flight attendant refused to help her lift her luggage, the only options she had were to either fight against everyone boarding the aircraft so she could exit with her luggage, or ... what she said she did.

It amazes me how people are always seeking fault in the victim in situations like this. It was passive aggressive of her to leave her luggage in the aisle? Seriously?
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 12:58 PM on April 12, 2010 [10 favorites]


I guess the reason I have a hard time believing her story is that I have the exact opposite experience - I'm not disabled, but people often assume I am, and it's very common for complete strangers to offer to help me.

I wouldn't assume that anyone's experiences in such a situation are universal.

My father was clearly disabled. Throughout his adult life, he walked with a cane, then crutches, then a walker and finally he used a wheelchair exclusively. He was often offered or given assistance by strangers, sometimes not. There were times when people had difficulty dealing with someone who was disabled. It wasn't a consistent thing. Living in New York may have had something to do with that, but perhaps not.
posted by zarq at 12:58 PM on April 12, 2010


metatalk
posted by angrycat at 12:58 PM on April 12, 2010


From my experience, mobility-impaired people often avoid using whatever mobility they have left to stand up and do stuff because people will then think that they don't need assistance when they do. I am fortunate to work in a profession where part of my job is helping people with various disabilities as I have learned that there are as many different levels of mobility as there are people and stuff that most people take for granted is just impossible for some even though they can do a lot of other stuff just fine.

I suspect the key to this is that she somehow wasn't disabled enough - or at least not obviously enough - for people to take her seriously.

This.
posted by Authorized User at 12:58 PM on April 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


argh i'm new and haven't mastered the link thing. but i made a metatalk post
posted by angrycat at 12:59 PM on April 12, 2010


Half-price bus fare? Fellow adults being condescending to you if they "notice" you at all? Not being able to run up stairs to avoid Daleks?

Well that's why I'm disabled. Not due to a misfiring basal ganglia that sends the neurochemical equivalent of a BSOD to my muscles periodically, making them literally spastic. Nope. I'm in it for the reduced fare and a chance to be a Red Shirt on a future ep. of Doctor Who. (Which is a moot point anyways - Daleks can now hover up staircases. The Ninth Doctor found that out the hard way.) The only weird experiences lately was the woman who asked if I was 'working or disabled', me telling her 'both' threw her for a loop. And the guy who randomly gave me money when I was on the bus home. Because employed software engineers are seriously at a disadvantage in this economy. I even tried showing him my work badge, and he still insisted I take it.

I don't know how someone can 'look' disabled; I use forearm crutches, which perhaps elevates me to the level of Tiny Tim. Tomorrow, in fact, I am flying to Wash DC on United - so it'll be interesting to see how they react and 'handle me'. (And the only real concession I take when flying is the early boarding, because it genuinely takes me a little longer to settle down in a seat.)
posted by spinifex23 at 1:01 PM on April 12, 2010 [6 favorites]


"There's a difference between having a disability and using it for an undue advantage - even if that advantage is the acknowledgement of it's existence by others."

Since I broke my arm and leg, I've had to rely a lot on the kindness of friends to help me do things like clean my house and make dinner. That we have to have people help, because I just can't do it (though it's a lot better—I can stand and haul around pretty well now), makes my girlfriend uncomfortable sometimes, because she doesn't want people to feel like we're taking advantage of my injury.

What I remind her is that I'd rather clean the bathroom a thousand times than break my leg—Hell, I look forward to cleaning the bathroom now.

So, saying that people with disabilities are using them for undue advantages, y'know, I think she'd much rather sling her own bags up there. And for calling recognition or courtesy an undue advantage, well, just that plenty of able-bodied folks get treated shittily doesn't mean that treating disabled folks shittily somehow balances those scales.
posted by klangklangston at 1:01 PM on April 12, 2010 [12 favorites]


argh i'm new and haven't mastered the link thing. but i made a metatalk post

No worries. MeTa
posted by zarq at 1:06 PM on April 12, 2010


United sounds like a bunch of asshats, not surprising given most people's experience with airports and airlines.

However, am I the only one who read this line:

"I asked if she needed to see the paperwork that went with it to verify that it was indeed my placard and that I really AM a disabled person rather than someone wandering around with a family member's because I run into that problem all the time. She told me that wouldn't be necessary"

And thought she wasn't being exactly the sweet, innocent victim here? Maybe I'm just jaded.
posted by Crash at 1:07 PM on April 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


Has no one encountered the kind of nutjob who'd pretend to be disabled or have cancer to get more attention from people? I prefer to take everyone at face value because I think that results in least harm, but people lie about strange things. Note that I do not think the woman who is complaining is one of those people, nor do I excuse United's moral failings.
posted by BrotherCaine at 1:09 PM on April 12, 2010


"I suspect the key to this is that she somehow wasn't disabled enough - or at least not obviously enough - for people to take her seriously."

I had a friend growing up whose life would have been so much better if he had been visibly disabled, because he had so many learning disabilities and internal handicaps that everyone assumed he was normal and just acting perversely dumb and sickly to frustrate them.
posted by klangklangston at 1:10 PM on April 12, 2010 [2 favorites]


Crash, at that point, I wouldn't expect anyone to be a "sweet, innocent victim" - she's in pain, upset, angry, and - oh yes - IN PAIN. Think of every bad airline experience you've had - how calm and rational were you through them?
posted by strixus at 1:10 PM on April 12, 2010 [5 favorites]


A few years ago, my father broke his right arm and left ankle on a trip to Germany. A week later, on the trip home, he had two incredibly different experiences. (Note: this is what I was told; my father is sometimes an unreliable witness, so here is your grain of salt beforehand.)

Lufthansa, from Dresden to Paris, had someone come around before boarding, and he and my mother were offered a special 'injured boarding pass', as were two other people. They were very polite and helped him to his seat. (He was, my mother said, rather insufferable about the situation.)

Continental, from Paris to Newark, was completely different. The attendants on the plane refused to allow him to take his cane down to his seat with him, and forced him to gate-check it. One of them hassled him when he asked for water to take his pain pill, claiming she was going to have him checked by security for 'anything else he smuggled'. He's also a large man, and the tray didn't work very well, so he had to give half his snack to my mother to hold just so he could hold onto things.

The difference between the two trips is fascinating. I'm not sure how much I believe, but if Continental was half as bad, I do not disagree with this person's story at all.

(Continental is the airline that did the 'you're too fat to fly' thing to me, wanted me to buy a second ticket, which I did... then they told me it was the price of my full round-trip ticket at which point I balked. Ended up on a red-eye from LA to Newark, wrote a snail-mail letter with a signature confirmation require card to the CEO of Continental and got an apology and some other things. I have heard stories about United - you can look at some of them at http://www.untied.com/ - and I am, in fact, not surprised.)
posted by mephron at 1:13 PM on April 12, 2010


Some of this was poor planning on her part

It's only common sense and common decency to lend a helping hand to folks who live with disabilities.

Poor planning? Supposed passive-aggressiveness?

Disabled folks are people, too. They're not automatically transformed into saints because they need a wheelchair.
posted by KokuRyu at 1:14 PM on April 12, 2010 [8 favorites]


Has no one encountered the kind of nutjob who'd pretend to be disabled or have cancer to get more attention from people?

Who gives a shit? Seriously.

What kind of asshole would assume that a person who says they are disabled is lying, either to get attention or undeserved assistance?
posted by zarq at 1:24 PM on April 12, 2010 [13 favorites]


stbalbach, she seems to gloss over it (she never says so openly), but it seems pretty clear that she can walk. Like here, for example:
The woman assured me the wheelchair was on their way, so I went back to sit and wait.
If she needed a wheelchair to get around 100% of the time, she wouldn't have "went back to sit". She'd already be sitting.

I think what happened to her is a bit more understandable in that light. After all, how would you react to someone walking on to a plane, sitting down, and leaving their luggage in the aisle, passively aggressively waiting for someone to mention it, and then plain aggressively pitching it in the middle of the aisle to stop people from passing? Someone who's not immediately obviously handicapped?

It doesn't make it right, but it does shed some light on why some people treated her like a normal, able-bodied person. After all, if she were handicapped, she wouldn't have walked to her seat and the attendants would have helped her. That's what you'd expect to see, at any rate. It doesn't justify, but it does explain to some degree the reactions she got.

Kutsuwamushi: It amazes me how people are always seeking fault in the victim in situations like this. It was passive aggressive of her to leave her luggage in the aisle? Seriously?

Yes, seriously. It seems amazing to me that you seem to consider leaving luggage in everyone's way and waiting for someone to mention it, all the while people are trying to go over it, around it, bumping into it, all of it, not to be passive-aggressive. What, because it's so hard to actually ask the first person passing by to assist you? You can't expect everyone to automatically assume that the lady staring at them with the evil eye while they try to negotiate a narrow strip that is blocked by carry-on luggage is actually disabled and looking for help and is not saying a word about it to anyone.

If you're disabled, others don't automatically become mindreaders and figure out exactly what you have, why you can't lift your luggage, why it's in the aisle, what you need from the other passengers, and why you won't ask help. At least, not until you've inconvenienced a bunch of people, and then suddenly decide to shove the luggage in the aisle so as to completely block everyone, and then and only then condescend to ask someone for help.

KokuRyu: Disabled folks are people, too. They're not automatically transformed into saints because they need a wheelchair.

Able-bodied folks are people too. They're not automatically transformed into mindreaders because somebody not obviously disabled is sitting on the plane with their luggage in the aisle.

United may have done her wrong, but on the other hand she hasn't done herself right either. You know, instead of "Finally, it was too much and I dropped my suitcase down into the aisle to stop the flow and ask one of the men passing me for help", she could have just started with "So I asked another passenger to help and explained my problem, and even if United sucks balls, at least their passengers have some decency".
posted by splice at 1:25 PM on April 12, 2010 [2 favorites]


The author describes her ordeal as being discriminated against in several places. Is there legislation in place in the states that equates lack of accommodation for a disability with discrimination?
posted by Mitheral at 1:30 PM on April 12, 2010


Funny, I didn't get that sense that she "wears her disability on her sleeve," though I believe there are such people in the world. I understood that the ADA required the airlines to provide a solution, not refuse to take any responsibility. I find it particularly amazing that a United rep would first claim the luggage was heavy and then say other passengers are supposed to help.

This Dina sounds, oddly enough, like the Dina who worked for Delta when I was trying to fly back home from Seattle to New York and Delta insisted on separating my then 4 year old and me by 20-odd rows.

They actually saw no problem with that, and rude obnoxious Dina absolutely insisted there was nothing she could do, could find no other seats together, etc. So when I boarded, I found two empty seats side by side and that took care of it. And yes, I had planned ahead. I had tried from the day I bought the roundtrip tickets two months earlier to get seat assignments for the return trip and at every step, was assured that, at the next level, someone would put us together.

This was the same airline, on the outbound flight, where I saw a giant cockroach on the bulkhead and quietly alerted the attendant, who gestured to two Asians sitting in front of me and suggested that they were at fault. She couldn't see my little Asian daughter since she was sleeping and had her face turned away.

As far as visible disabilities, several years ago I twice underwent shoulder surgeries, known as a capsular shift, that now limit my mobility and for a long time made lifting anything higher than shoulder height just about impossible. I looked very athletic at the time, and often ran into people who on planes who thought I was faking problems about using the overhead storage.
posted by etaoin at 1:35 PM on April 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


Mitheral, the last link in the post contains the text of the relevant statute. IANAL, so I'm not sure if it actually applies here, as she was not actually prevented from flying and none of the specific provisions seem to have been violated.
posted by restless_nomad at 1:37 PM on April 12, 2010


I was once in a conversation with a Continental flight attendant about the fact that it is not in their contract to assist with their luggage.

Unlike baggage handlers, they are not covered to handle baggage. It is specifically against their job description for various legal reasons (I suspect insurance costs and perhaps OSHA regulations factor in). If they help with your luggage and hurt themselves in any way, they have gone against their job description, making their job insecure and they are a hundred percent liable for all injury.

It's a sticking point between the unions and the airlines, and it's gotten more serious as people bring larger and larger carry-ons to avoid the increasing fees. So while it's a real concern, it's also part of a much larger issue than just customer service, and one where the staff has their hands tied regardless of their own sympathies (or lack thereof).
posted by politikitty at 1:37 PM on April 12, 2010 [5 favorites]


Person-with-sense-of-self-as-victim meets shitty service doled out by overworked and unsympathetic drones.
posted by Xoebe at 1:40 PM on April 12, 2010 [4 favorites]


strixus, I don't think her experience was that horrible. I feel sorry for her pain and discomfort, but I think a big part of her issue is that she deals with things like this repeatedly. When I read it, I definitely got the vibe that it was as much about the general lack of understanding as it was about this incident.

By her own admission, she doesn't look disabled. So leaving her bag blocking the aisle instead of asking for help seems self defeating, and the fact that she "volunteered" to show the paperwork proving her disability even though it was never requested seems to indicate her story is very one sided. I could be reading it completely wrong, perhaps she's not sugarcoating her part in the story and it really did happen exactly as she says, I'm just having a hard time believing it.
posted by Crash at 1:42 PM on April 12, 2010


splice, you make good points about how she could have asked another passenger for help, instead of inconveniencing all those poor people who had to navigate their way around her bag partially in the aisle... but why couldn't one of those passengers have said, "excuse me, ma'am, could you move your bag? it's in my way"? i guess maybe she's passive aggressive for not asking for help, but what about the people that just sort of rammed into her bag and didn't say a word? aren't they also being passive aggressive?

or hey, instead of condemning people for being "passive aggressive", we could maybe get pissed at United's ridiculous "no we will not help you" policies instead, since they're evidently the root cause of the whole issue.
posted by palomar at 1:44 PM on April 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


I already refuse to fly with United, so I can't really join a boycott against them. I fly quite a bit. 50,000 miles a year or so, and I would cancel a trip rather than fly United.
posted by Nothing at 1:45 PM on April 12, 2010


I too had a back injury from an auto accident. I was in constant and excruciating pain for 2 years.

Just because you can drive and walk from your car to the motoized scooter, doesn't mean that you aren't disabled.

United is awful and it will be a cold day in hell before I fly them again. And I firmly believed that before I read this and heard about how they break guitars.

I fly a lot and I am amazed at how the latest security screenings and bag checking issues have made the flying public and employees cranky and irritable.

Last week I had a bubble wrapped Captain Marvel poster (not huge, fit under the seat) my purse, a computer bag and my wheelie bag. Although the plane was only half full, they made me gate check my wheelie bag. I could understand if the plane was full and space was at a premium, but the remaining three things I had all fit under the seat. Turns out there was NOTHING in the overhead above me. I especially appreciated the lecture I received from the gate agent. "We can't just let you break the rules."

I think that everyone should all step back and take a deep breath. Let's try to help our fellow travellers, in life and at the airport.

Let's go back to offering disabled, elderly and pregnant folks our seat on the bus. Let's reach that item for the short lady at the supermarket. Thank you for giving me a coupon because I didn't have one for that item in my cart.

Is it so hard to be decent to each other?
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 1:45 PM on April 12, 2010 [6 favorites]


OK - one good thing about this controversy - I didn't know that airline personnel weren't supposed to handle overhead luggage. I thought that they could. Knowing this now, I'll check in my backpack when I fly tomorrow. I hate checking in bags, but last time I took my bag on the flight, I hurt my Ulnar nerve putting it above my seat.

I think I'll be checking in bags in the future. I don't fly that much; I can handle the fee.
posted by spinifex23 at 1:46 PM on April 12, 2010


Some of this was poor planning on her part (I've always arranged IN ADVANCE when I needed a wheelchair for a passenger I was flying with, not at the gate or ticket counter).

I have used a wheelchair for the last 12-13 years of my life. I have a frequent flyer account with American that is at least that old. They /still/ can't remember that I need a wheelchair, nor does it make a difference if I tell them when I make my reservation.
posted by spaceman_spiff at 1:46 PM on April 12, 2010 [2 favorites]


I find it particularly amazing that a United rep would first claim the luggage was heavy and then say other passengers are supposed to help.

The solution is to check the bag. Really. Placing items in the overhead bins is an unsafe, injury-prone action, and that's why airlines prohibit their employees from doing so. Lots of baggage handlers get injured in far more ergonomic settings. Moving heavy stuff around is not good for you, and putting it overhead is worse.

I'm not defending the way United handled this situation, but I don't think it is reasonable to expect anyone to put stuff overhead for you. But as a practical matter, other passengers probably will help you, even if you don't have a disability. You do have to ask, though.
posted by grouse at 1:57 PM on April 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


Oh yeah, people out there traveling with disabilities will probably find the FlyerTalk Disability Travel forum useful, especially the sticky topics at the top. This printable Guide to Accessible Air Travel from United Spinal is probably particularly useful.
posted by grouse at 2:03 PM on April 12, 2010 [4 favorites]


I flew LAN Air a few weeks ago, to go on a trip to Peru. This involved about 36 hours of plane travel and/or waiting around at the airport. For various reasons I'd decided that the flight was a good opportunity to give up coffee since I needed to give up coffee and had every intention of spending as much of it as possible asleep. I'd have been fine with the caffeine headache, but the lamb something-or-other lunch disagreed strongly with my stomach and I vomited. (Into an airsick bag. I'd had plenty of warning.)

Of her own accord a stewardess asked me if I was OK and if I would like anything. I managed to convey to her (her English wasn't great and my Spanish is non-existent) that I had a headache and felt sick. She brought me a camomile tea and a paracetamol tablet.

Having experienced a few flight delays on the way in I thought I'd try my luck at getting on an earlier flight on the way out. So I turned up at the Iquitos (Peru) airport about five hours early, waited for two hours in the line, and asked if I could please be moved to an earlier flight. The check-in clerk politely agreed and efficiently issued me with a new (hand-written) boarding pass, and sent me off to wait in that line. As a result, I actually got to Santiago, Chile in time to catch my flight out, which was a very good thing for me in retrospect because if I'd had any delays I might have been caught in the earthquake, which closed the airport for a couple of days.

I would say I had excellent service from LAN. I'm not disabled, but those passengers I saw who were disabled and/or elderly were shuffled through early, put on and off the plane first, and assisted with their baggage.

It's not an airline thing, it's a cultural thing. US service is pretty terrible to start with, being mostly a fixed grin over an attitude of "I don't give a shit if you die", but something about planes seems to bring out the utter worst in US Americans; staff more than passengers, as staff are given ludicrous levels of power over passengers, but passengers too.
posted by aeschenkarnos at 2:08 PM on April 12, 2010 [2 favorites]


What kind of asshole would assume that a person who says they are disabled is lying, either to get attention or undeserved assistance?

I'll admit that I got pissed one time when a BMW SUV pulled into a handicapped spot and didn't have disabled tags. The driver saw me looking and pulled out a bogus-looking sticker to hang from the overhead mirror before he jumped out real quick. He seem unencumbered and did not have any passengers.

I'm not saying it's right, but there's a sense of fair play about these things. When people take advantage of special arrangements meant for people who actually need them, when they need them, it is sometimes easier to be bitter that the arrangements are in place.

We really should be bitter about the exploitive assholes who take advantage, but instead we sometimes get upset about the advantage existing. It's weird and I don't know why that feeling can pop up so easily, but I know I have to check for it within myself and focus on who I should be directing my anger at. In this case, the SUV-driving douchebag in the parking lot that day.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 2:14 PM on April 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


I'm not defending the way United handled this situation, but I don't think it is reasonable to expect anyone to put stuff overhead for you. But as a practical matter, other passengers probably will help you, even if you don't have a disability. You do have to ask, though

So, the scenario here is:

PAX-A is disabled and can't lift bag into overhead.

FA-A says, T.S.&F.U.

PAX-B trips over bag in aisle, breaking leg.

Now, who does LAWYER-A sue for negligence?
posted by mikelieman at 2:32 PM on April 12, 2010


Let's go back to offering disabled, elderly and pregnant folks our seat on the bus. Let's reach that item for the short lady at the supermarket. Thank you for giving me a coupon because I didn't have one for that item in my cart.

Yes, agreed. It is amazing how a kind word or action will make your day. Having a tough time should make you more sensitive, not less, to others' problems, which is the one issue I have with the original post. She was willing to inconvenience other passengers, who ALSO might have had hidden disabilities.

Again, when I was recovering from those separate shoulder surgeries, I spent a certain amount of time traveling around by bus, which isn't easy out here in the suburbs. At the risk of inviting complaints about stereotypes, it was consistently black passengers who were most helpful when they saw I was struggling to get on or off the bus or down the aisle, while I literally had one arm anchored to my waist. Nobody made a big deal about it; they saw me having a tough time. I have always thought that those bus passengers had suffered or been treated badly themselves and chose kindness over payback. It's a good lesson for all.
posted by etaoin at 2:36 PM on April 12, 2010


We really should be bitter about the exploitive assholes who take advantage, but instead we sometimes get upset about the advantage existing. It's weird and I don't know why that feeling can pop up so easily, but I know I have to check for it within myself and focus on who I should be directing my anger at. In this case, the SUV-driving douchebag in the parking lot that day.

Appearances may be deceiving.

My father-in-law has diabetes. He's missing a couple of toes and has poor circulation in his feet and legs. Has difficulty walking long distances and has been told not to by his doctor. But he does look completely abled, and is able to walks somewhat well on his own without assistance. Some days are better for him than others. He also has one of those handicapped tags that hands from the rear-view mirror.
posted by zarq at 2:41 PM on April 12, 2010 [10 favorites]


I think that everyone should all step back and take a deep breath. Let's try to help our fellow travellers, in life and at the airport.

Let's go back to offering disabled, elderly and pregnant folks our seat on the bus. Let's reach that item for the short lady at the supermarket. Thank you for giving me a coupon because I didn't have one for that item in my cart.

Is it so hard to be decent to each other?
posted by Ruthless Bunny


I second that emotion.
This all could have been avoided by the airline personnel acting like humans and not sociopathic robots. Or by some one trying to get down the aisle offering to help.
The visibility or invisibility of this woman's disability is a moot point.
If someone looks like they need help, you FUCKING STOP AND ASK THEM IF THEY NEED HELP.

We are still in a "civilized" society, right?
posted by kaiseki at 2:43 PM on April 12, 2010 [3 favorites]


Appearances may be deceiving.

I know, so I just keep walking on. If I believed in karma, I probably wouldn't be one of those assholes who gets slightly bothered by it. In reality, it's not something I really should even get upset about, except that people who abuse the system are a problem to the degree that someone who is really disabled can't access those resources.

I'm not trying to justify my feelings, except perhaps to talk honestly about them and how I deal with them. I don't think this woman's story is unbelievable — I imagine United and other airlines treat other disabled people equally poorly, as well. I hope she gets redress for the wrongs done to her.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 2:58 PM on April 12, 2010


I just came through JFK last week, and while I was standing in the luggage transfer line, I noticed a lady in a wheelchair next to me, desperately trying to convey something to one of those luggage handler guys who was pushing her wheelchair.

It turns out, she spoke only Moroccan Arabic, and that's it - no French, no Modern Standard Arabic. I quickly explained to her what was going on (with my limited vocabulary in it), and that her 2 bags were transferred, no worries, and started to walk off.

I was immediately re-hailed by the luggage guy, who wanted me to explain to her that she needed to be taken in a van over to another terminal. Luckily, I was going to the same terminal/gate, so I again explained what would happen, and said I would stay with her.

To make a long story short - at every turn, I had to be my pushiest self to track down wheelchairs, where the elevators were, help her with her small carry-on, make sure she got down an escalator safely, not allow the wheelchair guy to let her sit out in the blowing rain and cold of a NYC city day while waiting 15 minutes for the van, etc...

On top of all that, people in the security lines acted like I was pulling some kind of egregious hijinks - I really didn't want to go through with her, I hate making a spectacle, but she couldn't understand anyone at all. When I couldn't think of the word for 'pacemaker' - one idiot lady asked me where she was from, and then pointed to a random guy in a thobe/ghutra, and said "I'll bet he speaks Arabic, ask him to talk to her!" Argh. But I digress.

No one was helpful. Wheelchairs came for other people, but not for her. When I got on the plane, I asked the flight attendant to make sure there was a wheelchair waiting, and of course, there was nothing. I cornered some kind of security guy, and he showed me the (hidden!) elevator, then I managed to con the driver of one of those 4-seater carts into driving us down to the other end of the terminal.

I seriously have no idea how disabled people get through airports under these conditions, much less those who might not be fluent in English. I took care of this lady because she looked like she could have been my mother-in-law - it's a good lesson for me, like kaiseki said above, to try to treat everyone with the same level of care and concern.
posted by HopperFan at 3:26 PM on April 12, 2010 [22 favorites]


I wrote: United once caused me (and something like 200 other people) to miss a flight overseas so as not to damage their "ontime record" by something like 5 minutes.

Grouse wrote: You don't give the full details of this. Was your incoming flight late and United refused to hold the next flight for you? That is standard practice for most airlines. If you were told the reason was not to damage their "ontime record by five minutes," then you were either misinformed or misunderstood. Airlines try to send their flights out on time because if they don't the follow-on effects in terms of plane and crew positioning can be a lot longer than five minutes. For example, if a flight crew is delayed just a few minutes, then they may no longer be legal to fly at some point, requiring an expensive substitution, and a delay of perhaps hours.

The incoming flight was late, yes. And this was because some part of the United flight crew arrived late. How do I know this? They told us. Only something like a dozen people did make the flight (from Washington DC to Frankfurt.) I understand what you're saying, but all 200-odd of us were told simply that it would only be a "minor" inconvenience for us and that it was important for United to maintain its on-time record, "even if it meant that many people miss their flights." Of course, the convenient wasn't minor for any of us, and even if there was some logic behind it all (which to be honest, I doubt), the fact that United personnel used their on-time record as an excuse and caused the whole problem in the first place by having personnel not show up on time is a pretty good example of how much they suck. And then we had to wait in line with one person to handle all of us - and we all needed to rebook international flights, etc.

On the other hand, when my friends couldn't fly out of London during January's snowstorm (via United), they - along with many, many hundreds of others - weren't allowed to rebook their flights on the telephone (which would have been tough in any case) because there were "ample" United personnel at the airport to help them. But there weren't any - the last one had left an hour or two earlier, saying simply that "there's no way I can fix all this, I'm going home."

That, in a nutshell, is United.
posted by Dee Xtrovert at 4:22 PM on April 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


anyone or anything that inconveniences me in even the slightest way is an asshole and they deserve what they get. in 20 years we'll just shoot people who ask for the time

hamburger
posted by r_nebblesworthII at 4:34 PM on April 12, 2010


Like the blogger I have a permanent spinal injury invisible to the eye. Flight attendants routinely refuse to help me stow my luggage even if I say I'm disabled. It's not just United. I figured lifting was against the terms of their contract, so now I just ask a passenger for help, or check my bag to avoid the stress altogether. Some flight attendants are ruder than others. So what? Service jobs are hard.

The way she tells her story really undermines her case. Who cares if she got a headache because of a young family? What does that have to do with anything?
posted by vincele at 5:02 PM on April 12, 2010 [2 favorites]


It seems to me that the posted essay has an annoying self-justifying tone, reminiscent of "the TSA stole my baby" (a blog post from a while back -- which turned out to be fake but that's not relevant for the comparison), which I think is contributing to some of the irritation.

It sucks traveling while disabled, and she has every right to complain about her treatment. It sounds like basically there are three core complaints:

1. Long waits for wheelchairs on both ends of the trip
2. No help with bag lifting (which, I guess maybe is not required by ADA? that's surprising to me)
3. Rude customer service all around, maybe because employees hadn't been trained "seemingly able-bodied people can have disabilities you can't see"

List those in a plain, factual way and you have a convincing "this should not have happened" letter.

Instead, by including everything about the trip (the young children etc) and her frame of mind, and how much more upset she got at each instance of rudeness, and writing it all in a highly emotional way (maybe even doctoring quotes to make it clear how upsetting the person's words were to her), she causes the reader to focus on her emotions -- and in turn, people ask questions about whether her emotions were appropriate to what happened.


This is a weird feature of our bloggy world. Historically, this kind of story is the way you would relate it to a sympathetic friend, "oh I had the worst flight, let me vent". You might even embroider facts a little (eg changing quotes) to make your story more satisfying and to express just how angry you were. And the friend would say "oh, that sucks so much, I can't believe she said that" etc. But because you can put it online, now we're reading the emotionally charged venty version of things without being a sympathetic friend, with an eye toward second-guessing her (why didn't you just ask the first passenger to help you rather than getting hurt by your bag?), and with a higher expectation of "no embroidering".
posted by LobsterMitten at 5:07 PM on April 12, 2010 [5 favorites]


(ie, what vincele said)
posted by LobsterMitten at 5:07 PM on April 12, 2010


Is there legislation in place in the states that equates lack of accommodation for a disability with discrimination?

In a word, yes. This is what the ADA does. For example, imagine that my local courthouse has an entrance with steps, but I use a wheelchair. I am excluded from that building as much as if there were a "no disabled people allowed" sign. It may not be conscious discrimination, but awareness of your intent to discriminate isn't required for something to be discriminatory (eg, it would still be hiring discrimination if the boss said "I didn't mean to discriminate against you, it just never occurred to me that a woman could be an electrician, and that's why I didn't hire you" or whatever).
posted by LobsterMitten at 5:23 PM on April 12, 2010


United no longer insures injuries caused from flight attendants lifting luggage up into overhead bins.
posted by ao4047 at 5:31 PM on April 12, 2010


When I see something on Stumble Upon, it's usually only a matter of hours, sometimes less, before it ends up in the blue.
posted by Malice at 5:50 PM on April 12, 2010


I have a severe disability (wheelchair, ventilator, the works) and have flown both domestically and internationally, mostly with Northwest (now Delta). Once, after landing in Los Angeles, the airline somehow lost my chair for 3 hours, forcing me to remain on the plane until they found it. On another occasion, after returning from Europe, I discovered that my wheelchair had been left behind in Amsterdam. I've had equipment busted up by careless baggage handlers. Like most people with disabilities, I regard flying as the most inaccessible and hazard-prone form of travel. And the airlines don't seem interested in making it more accessible any time soon.

That said, most of the flight crews I've encountered have been tremendously helpful. That probably has something to do with the overwhelming obviousness of my disability. People's willingness to help seems to be directly correlated to "OMG" response provoked by the disability. My guess is that Rachel's disability is less apparent, which made it easier for the flight attendant to label her as just another in a long procession of complaining passengers. That doesn't justify the attendant's behavior, but it might explain the dynamic that developed.

I'm also guessing that Rachel deals with chronic pain. I have no experience with chronic pain, but I understand that it can be utterly exhausting and can quickly suck up emotional reserves that might otherwise be available to deal with a rude flight attendant. Again, not a justification, but an observation.

Flying is a pain in the ass for everyone, but it's a little more acute for those of us with disabilities.
posted by wintermute2_0 at 5:51 PM on April 12, 2010 [8 favorites]


First I read all the comments, then I read the article, backwards I know, but with purpose.

My conclusion: whatever happened to simple human decency?

Just the other day I was ascending a staircase that led to two closed doors. At the one on the left, a man with a cane was moving towards it very slowly, so I used the one on the right rather than cut in front of him.

As I passed through my door it hit me that he was taking longer than expected to open his door, and I realised that he was having trouble with it. He wasn't slow because he was elderly, he was slow owing to some type of palsy. I could see through the glass that even grabbing the handle was tricky business, so I opened the door for him and waited until he was all the way through.

And the man was grateful that someone stopped long enough to save him the trouble of negotiating a stubborn obstacle the rest of take for granted. That doesn't make me a saint, but I felt good that I was at least aware of someone else's needs over my own.

What's lacking in this story is compassion; only the man who helped with her bag seemed to have any.

Sure, maybe the lady's bag was heavy (although I doubt that a disabled woman with spinal problems would overpack and give herself an even larger burden), and maybe airline attendants are not covered for injuries sustained while performing duties outside their purview, but it seems to me all this could be eliminated by an airline that cares enough for people that it would hire a big strong guy whose job would be specifically to help passengers who can't handle even a carry-on bag, or who need wheelchair transfer assistance.

Again, in a word: decency.
posted by bwg at 7:04 PM on April 12, 2010 [9 favorites]


mikelieman: “PAX-A is disabled and can't lift bag into overhead.
FA-A says, T.S.&F.U.
PAX-B trips over bag in aisle, breaking leg.
Now, who does LAWYER-A sue for negligence?


Answer: C, all of the above. (Or it could be, "D, does not include sufficient information," because the real answer is "whoever has the deepest pockets." So practically, it's probably not the passenger, unless Bill Gates was feeling masochistic that day and decided to fly commercial, but the airline.)

We are still in a "civilized" society, right?

A modern commercial airliner is the ragged edge of civilization. I have, and I say this with complete honesty, been on flights that were a hairsbreadth away from going the Lord of the Flies / rough justice route.

The average tension level seems to have eased a tiny bit, but a few immediately post-9/11 flights were scary as hell. Not all of them, and there wasn't any pattern that I've ever figured out to the ones that got weird. Just some sort of bizarre herd behavior, a sort of group-psychology feedback loop, maybe. But they have definitely been at the tension level where, if it was a bar on the ground, I'd have been asking for my check.

Admittedly I fly a lot, so this is out of hundreds of flights, but there does seem to be something about cramming a lot of people onto an aluminum tube that brings out some of the worst (and yet sometimes best) in both individuals and the culture in general. The airlines, for their part, seem to basically just pour gasoline on the fire with their policies. But there doesn't seem to be any appetite for regulation, because most flyers don't think about anything except price when booking their ticket. The airlines treat passengers like semi-bovine fleshsacks because there doesn't seem to be any limit to what customers will endure in exchange for lower fares (although Spirit Air does seem to really be innovating in this regard).

I don't suspect that anything will happen until either that magical public-tolerance point is reached (standing room only flights? charging to use the lav?), or a passenger revolt crashes or destroys an aircraft.
posted by Kadin2048 at 7:39 PM on April 12, 2010


It's perfectly reasonable for flight attendants to not be allowed to lift luggage into the overhead bin for passengers. What's not perfectly reasonable (and is, in fact, likely illegal) is for the airline to refuse to provide reasonable accommodations to passengers with disabilities. The flight attendant could easily have offered to tag her bag like a stroller or wheelchair so it could be retrieved at the gate at her destination. Alternatively, he/she could have stored the bag in an on-board closet (if the plane has one), where flight attendants routinely store bags for passengers. Failing that, the airline could provide a trained baggage handler to lift the suitcase instead. The required accommodations for a disability have to be provided if they are "reasonable" under the law. For a gigantic business like United, some kind of arrangement to deal with this passenger's luggage is surely not an unreasonable request.

There's something about airlines and flying that seems to bring out the worst (and rarely the best) in people. Between the close confines, the loss of control, the recirculated air, increased solar radiation, or something bout the whole process turns ordinary humans into incredibly unpleasant human beings.

The field of Universal Design basically says that we shouldn't just focus on designing things to be easier for those with disabilities, we should try to design things to be easier for everybody, which also winds up helping the disabled (and really, most of us will be disabled at some point or another in our lives, so that's all of us). In other words, the ramp at the front of a building doesn't just help a wheelchair user, it helps the parent with a stroller or the deliveryman with a dolly. Accessibility features on the web don't just help blind users, they help mobile browsers and search engines work better. The big "handicapped" stall in the restroom is a boon to parents with small children or those with luggage. There's a billion examples.

The interesting thing is that one of Universal Design's early success stories was in airports, which accommodate an extremely diverse range of people and have large enough visitor numbers to make these measures economically feasible. Basic airport features like conveyor belts, jet bridges, pictorial signage, and the like were early examples of Universal Design principles. Somewhere along the way, things went downhill, and we have now a system that's inaccessible and unpleasant for everybody, with a patchwork of "wheelchair attendants" running about.

I'm sure this story will result in the usual apologies from United and perhaps some extra training for employees, but that's missing the real point here, which is that that air travel is tremendously inaccessible for everyone, whether they are considered "disabled" or not. It would be nice to see us all focus on that instead of just specific fixes for individual disabilities.
posted by zachlipton at 7:46 PM on April 12, 2010 [12 favorites]


So that's why there's a price war and a race to cut services. Because services don't sell. Only price sells. Period, end of statement.

From what I understand, in the US the reason things ended up this way is deregulation. Fares and routes were set by the government until 1978. Flying wasn't cheap, so the airlines tried to compete on amenities. Check out some of the ads for airlines from the '60s and early-mid '70s. They used to serve serious food in airplanes, complete with wine and fancy tableware.
posted by krinklyfig at 8:10 PM on April 12, 2010


I don't suspect that anything will happen until either that magical public-tolerance point is reached (standing room only flights? charging to use the lav?), or a passenger revolt crashes or destroys an aircraft.

One of the big problems with airline service is that the industry as a whole struggles with staying afloat financially. Commercial flying in the US survives in large part due to regular financial restructuring and bailouts. So, there's a downside to providing bad service, but it's not like people's livelihoods depended on it, because rounds of bankruptcy are just business as usual. I flew on Continental recently, and their in-flight magazine was an anniversary special complete with historical timeline, including bankruptcies. I can't remember offhand, but they went through restructuring several times, and they are typical. There are certainly many other reasons, and I agree that culture plays a big part, but there is no survival incentive in the business. Southwest is the exception to the norm of generally rude service, but they aren't as consistent as they used to be. Hardly anyone tries anymore.
posted by krinklyfig at 9:40 PM on April 12, 2010


It doesn't make it right, but it does shed some light on why some people treated her like a normal, able-bodied person. After all, if she were handicapped, she wouldn't have walked to her seat and the attendants would have helped her. That's what you'd expect to see, at any rate. It doesn't justify, but it does explain to some degree the reactions she got.

Do you realize that not all handicapped people use wheelchairs, correct? I can walk short distances, albeit with a cane or walker, more than that I use my wheelchair. I am 34 (for 11 more days) normally have fuschia hair, I am tattooed, pierced, and fat. I know where she is coming from. I have been the one who has been treated poorly by customer service people because I didn't "look" disabled enough.

She used a wheelchair to get to the point where she could comfortably, and safely, walk to her seat.


As for those saying it is against policy, read the policy please: "Once passengers are onboard the aircraft, our flight attendants can help with stowing and retrieving carry-on item"

Yeah, it is part of their job according to United's website. If that is no longer policy they need to remove it so those of us with disabilities know to avoid them. Although, this kind of thing is why I drive or take the train everywhere
posted by SuzySmith at 9:51 PM on April 12, 2010 [7 favorites]


Lots of vilifying of United, which is not a surprise. They often don't have great customer service, nor do many other airlines and many businesses. Seems to me like there's plenty of blame to spread around, though.

On a related note, did anyone read the "not the first time" link to the other claim of discrimination? It looks like United paid $850,000 in damages for not allowing an employee to work over time. Mind you that non-disabled employees are not allowed to work overtime. The claim is that this rule unfairly impacts disabled people, but I couldn't understand why. I did read the claim through, but I was left thinking that the individual in question was out to make some money rather than that United had done something discriminatory.

I cannot imagine a flight attendant stowing every one on the plane's carry on luggage for them; they have other things to do, and their availability to serve is not limitless. This lady could have politely asked her fellow passengers for assistance or waited until someone had time to help. Or she could have traveled lighter. Perhaps airlines should waive the checked baggage fee for passengers with a disabled placard to avoid this entirely.
posted by pkingdesign at 9:53 PM on April 12, 2010


I forgot one point, as for her not asking for help from another passenger, it can be tough to ask for help. Especially when you have been treated bad by others about your disability, or perceived lack thereof.
posted by SuzySmith at 9:54 PM on April 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


As for those saying it is against policy, read the policy please: "Once passengers are onboard the aircraft, our flight attendants can help with stowing and retrieving carry-on item"

Read what I said earlier: "Saying they will help you stow your luggage does not necessarily mean that they will help you stow it above."
posted by grouse at 10:08 PM on April 12, 2010


Then the flight attendant should have offered to stow it elsewhere instead of telling her to ask another passenger.
posted by SuzySmith at 10:21 PM on April 12, 2010


i think most of the hostile-towards-the-victim type comments on here came as a result of the really really awful and self-indulgent writing style in the blog post. this woman has definitely been through a really shitty situation, but good lord i have never seen such a PITY PLEASE blog post, and i was on livejournal when i was 14
posted by tehloki at 10:24 PM on April 12, 2010


That is true. But I wouldn't rule out the possibility that she did and it wasn't reported here. Or that she assumed that the passenger would prefer to get help from another passenger rather than have her bag gate-checked.
posted by grouse at 10:28 PM on April 12, 2010


My response was to SuzySmith, not tehloki.
posted by grouse at 10:29 PM on April 12, 2010


...the fact that it is not in their contract to assist with their luggage. Unlike baggage handlers, they are not covered to handle baggage. It is specifically against their job description for various legal reasons...

Did you read the second link in the writeup?

"Once passengers are onboard the aircraft, our flight attendants can help with stowing and retrieving carry-on items"

In this case it is specifically part of their job description, also for legal reasons.
posted by Evilspork at 10:56 PM on April 12, 2010


Yes, we see the second link. But given how one sided the blog post was, we're not confident we're getting the whole story. As already stated, perhaps the attendant offered to stow the luggage at the front of the plane in a closet, and the author turned her down. Perhaps the closets were full and the attendant offered to check her luggage, but the author demanded it be placed directly overhead. In either case, United would be following their policy.

Alternately, it's possible the attendant was having as bad a day as the author was and actually was as rude as stated. In that case United was at fault and didn't follow their own policies, but the situation could have easily been remedied by asking a fellow passenger to help.

Given United's policy not to stow luggage overhead, it's not a stretch to think United's lawyers forbid flight attendants from asking passengers to assist. If a fellow passenger asks for help instead of the flight attendant, United has a much less likely chance of being sued if the good Samaritan gets injured during the act.

Finally, it seems that her interaction with the customer service rep boils down to her demanding United state they were at fault and United stating that given their policies, the flight attendant was just following orders. Both sides could have been nicer and more understanding, most likely. Keep in mind that the author states she made accusations of discriminating against her by United, so I'm guessing the customer service rep was more worried about not getting sued or losing her job by admitting fault. Discussions rarely go well after one side thinks they're facing a potential law suit.
posted by Crash at 6:39 AM on April 13, 2010 [2 favorites]


We really should be bitter about the exploitive assholes who take advantage, but instead we sometimes get upset about the advantage existing. It's weird and I don't know why that feeling can pop up so easily, but I know I have to check for it within myself and focus on who I should be directing my anger at. In this case, the SUV-driving douchebag in the parking lot that day.

Huh? He "seemed" unencumbered and drove an SUV, so he can't be disabled?

My mom is disabled, but not in "obvious" way and she drives a Volvo. Because she chooses a comfortable car, should her handicapped placard be revoked? Inquiring minds want to know.

Disabled people drive SUVs/BMWs/any effin' car they want. Just because you can't see someone else's spinal pain or degenerative nerve disease doesn't mean it's not there. Yes, I get pissed about people without disabilities parking in handicapped spots, but I happen to know from my mom's experience that those rear-view mirror placards aren't easy to obtain. If the dude had one, he was probably legit. Save your rage for the dude in the Honda who takes the handicapped spot and doesn't even have a tag to show for it.

Who cares if she got a headache because of a young family? What does that have to do with anything?

Yeah, that part of the story bugged me too. Not only do people have weird attitudes about disabilities, but all humans (and Americans especially, from what I've noticed) seem to have BIZARRE attitudes about children and are quick to both be irritated by them and blame them for any minor nuisance they may cause. As much as people are often unempathetic to the disabled, a lot of people (regardless of ability) are really, really lacking any kind of empathy at all w/r/t children.
posted by grapefruitmoon at 7:37 AM on April 13, 2010 [3 favorites]


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