Did American Airlines Remove a Passenger With a Disability From a Flight—With No Explanation?

Mar 30, 2017

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Earlier today, we spotted a story that made us cringe. In his moving blog post, Mark E. Smith — a frequent flyer who has cerebral palsy — shared the story of how he’d been removed without warning from American Airlines flight #121, a domestic flight from Los Angeles (LAX) to Philadelphia (PHL). Having boarded the plane and taken his window seat, there was a delay and eventually, some commotion at the front of the aircraft. Before he knew it, the passengers next to him were approached and asked to move out of the way so they could remove him from the flight.

The only explanation Smith got? “Communication between the captain and ground crew instructed that he wouldn’t accept me and my wheelchair on the flight.” Smith immediately protested, explaining to the crew that his wheelchair was airline compliant and how he’s never had trouble traveling with it before, even with all his frequent business trips. The crew’s response? They insisted and continued the process of removing him from the aircraft as quickly as possible — “Captain’s orders.”

Once off the plane, Smith was reportedly left in the jet bridge without any further assistance. He concluded his chilling story in the following way:

“As I sat there truly helpless, unable to move, not knowing how or when I’d get home — or even where my wheelchair was — I realized that I had to make an emotionally life-saving choice. I could allow American Airlines and its personnel to strip me of my dignity and degrade my humanity. Or, I could take control of my true being. Instead of expressing anger, I could maintain grace. Instead of experiencing anxiety, I could evoke strength. And, instead of external tears, I could hint an internal smile. And, with that, there I sat, deep in introspection, hearing the plane fly away, absorbing the fact that I, based on disability, was deemed less than human by American Airlines and its personnel.”

A number of commenters on the blog post expressed doubts as to whether or not Smith had provided the entire story, after all, it’s hard to believe that the captain would take such drastic action without any justification. In an attempt to get both sides of the story, we reached out to American Airlines, hoping to get a comment about the incident. An AA spokesperson provided us the following statement via email:

“We apologize to Mr. Smith for his recent experience. We are investigating and have reached out to him to gather additional information. American does not tolerate discrimination of any kind and we are committed to providing a positive travel experience for all of our customers. Mr. Smith was re-accommodated on American’s next flight to Philadelphia.”

While there may still be more to the story that emerges as part of this investigation, AA’s statement doesn’t seem to indicate there was any valid cause for his removal. We applaud Mr. Smith for keeping such a positive attitude throughout such a tough experience, and hope American Airlines will do its best to make amends and take appropriate actions once all the facts have been gathered.

Passengers traveling with disabilities or medical conditions can use this link to file a request for assistance with American Airlines, or call AA at 800-433-7300 (Reservations) or 800-543-1586 (TDD reservations services).

Featured image courtesy of Manuel Faba Ortega via Getty Images.

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