An Idaho woman who had a leg amputated said American Airlines crew members forced her to crawl down an airplane aisle to use the bathroom and told her she needed to disrobe in view of other passengers.
Tammy Spears of Jerome, Idaho, sued American Airlines and ticket portal CheapOair in federal court in Utah Monday, saying the airline neglected to make sure the aircraft had a narrow wheelchair needed to navigate the slim aisles on the Airbus A321 jet. The incident occurred last August on a flight between Salt Lake City and Charlotte, the first part of Spears’ journey to visit her sister in Richmond, Va.
According to the lawsuit, Spears needed to use the bathroom during the four-hour flight, but there was no way to get her there because the plane didn’t have a wheelchair. Eventually, she “was directed by American’s flight attendants, and other agents, to ‘scoot’ on the floor of the cabin,” according to the suit.
“How can you think that someone boarding a 4-hour flight could use the restroom?,” said Spears’ attorney Diane Marger Moore.
Moore said the entire situation stemmed from the airline forgetting to have a wheelchair on board, despite being notified in advance that Spears required one.
“We take the safety and comfort of our customers very seriously and we’re committed to providing a positive experience for everyone who travels with us,” said a statement from American Airlines spokesman Matt Miller. “We have been in contact with Ms. Spears and her family on multiple occasions, and we will address the allegations in the lawsuit in due course.”
A representative for CheapOair’s parent company said Spears never made a request for accommodation through the website.
“We sympathize with Ms. Spears experience, but the conversation in this regard must be between her and the airline,” said Kathi Moore, a spokeswoman for Fareportal in a prepared statement.
It’s not the first time an airline, even American Airlines, has been accused of mishandling a passenger in need of a wheelchair.
A paraplegic man sued United Airlines in January after saying he had to scoot down the aisle on several occasions while traveling for his honeymoon, according to ABC 7 Chicago. Another man, a double amputee, sued American Airlines in 2017, saying the airline called the police on him for hobbling down the aisle of an airplane and accused him of being intoxicated. That case was dismissed when the judge said the man didn’t suffer any injuries.
In this most recent case, Moore said Spears was repeatedly humiliated as she was forced to try to get down the aisle without the assistance of a wheelchair, even though another passenger tried to help by “pushing” and “pulling” Spears. Flight attendants asked Spears to “hop” down the aisle, the lawsuit said.
“This was a Laurel and Hardy flight crew, and I say this with great respect for air crews and what they do,” Moore said.
Once Spears was able to scoot to the restroom, she was unable to lift herself because she was exhausted, according to the complaint. Passengers and crew members tried to help lift her by pushing luggage underneath Spears to get her up.
“Having reached the lavatory near the cockpit and forward of the first-class cabin, American’s cabin attendants and agents began to disrobe (Spears) in plain view of flight attendants and several of the first-class passengers,” the lawsuit said. “(Spears) was too humiliated and exhausted, and her need had become too urgent, to resist.”
Once she got into the lavatory, the crew told Spears to leave the door open, the lawsuit said.
After the ordeal, a first-class passenger gave up his seat for Spears, a gesture she said saved her a humiliating trip back to her economy-class seat, according to the suit.
Her lawyer said both Fort Worth-based American and New York-based CheapOair were at fault for not making sure that there was a wheelchair on the flight. American should have procured a wheelchair or put Spears on another flight, the attorney said.
After the flight landed in Charlotte, Spears was taken to a room by American Airlines and “interrogated” and told why the airline wasn’t responsible, the lawsuit said.
Moore said there weren’t any more problems during her connecting flight on American Airlines, or her return flights to Salt Lake City.
“This was her first flight after having an amputation,” Moore said. “And she was completely humiliated.”
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