A man was forced to interrupt his travel plans after a captain on a United Express flight from Denver refused to let him travel with his life-saving dialysis machine. My reading of the situation and the airlines’ subsequent response leads me to believe the captain acted in a cowardly fashion.
Man Thrown Off Flight After Captain Refuses To Allow His Dialysis Machine Onboard
Adron Mccarter has kidney disease. A dialysis machine, which re-circulates his blood, is pivotal in keeping him alive. He is fortunate enough to have a portable machine, which spares him frequent trips to the hospital or clinic.
A grandchild was recently born in Spokane, Washington and for the first time in his life, Mccarter stepped onto an airplane: he wanted to visit his new granddaughter. The outbound from Knoxville (TYS) to Spokane (GEG) went smoothly. So did the first leg of his return, from Spokane to Denver (DEN). But when stepping onboard his final leg, a United Express Canadair RJ 700 operated by SkyWest, he ran into a problem.
The captain refused to let him store the dialysis machine in the cabin. Mccarter told WBIR:
“They come across and says we’re going to be delayed, so I got up and went out and when I did the pilot was up in my wife’s face. He came across the microphone and said I was trying to bring something on the plane that wasn’t allowed and then kicked us off in front of everybody like we were just terrorists.”
So easy to second-guess and pile on scorn, isn’t it? Maybe I’m not being charitable enough to the pilot. But we do hold captain’s at a higher standard – like police officers. There is no room for error and we expect sound judgment in all areas under their control. The captain could have easily checked on whether this carry-on was permitted. Maybe he did and his pride kept him from admitting he was wrong.
The Air Carrier Access Act is clear: portable dialysis machines are considered to be medically necessary assistive devices and therefore carriers must permit passengers to stow the portable dialysis machine in the aircraft cabin, if it fits.
Mccarter and his wife were promptly provided a voucher for food and a hotel and re-accomodated the following day, but the travel interruption also messed up his dialysis treatment schedule, forcing a double-treatment. Mccarter added:
“It made me sad. I had a full-blown panic attack and it made me infuriated at the same time. You can’t treat people that way. I’m having to do treatment now. We had to do two in a row so we can get caught up and that’s hard on your body and hard on your heart. So overall, it was one of the top three worst experiences of my life.”
He vows never to fly again.
A SkyWest spokesperson said:
“A passenger was rebooked from SkyWest flight 5423 due to a misunderstanding about the approved medical device with which they were traveling. Together with United, we provided food, lodging and made arrangements to get the customer to his destination as quickly as possible. We apologize for the inconvenience and are following up with our crew to prevent a similar situation in the future.”
If you watch the video above, you’ll see this is a big machine. It likely took up its own seat on the aircraft. Even if we give the pilot the absolute benefit of the doubt and consider such a large item dangerous, a simple call to his union or to management should have revealed this medical device was permitted as a carry-on item. Place this on the floor between seats or strapped into a vacant seat should have alleviated safety concerns. You really want a man to check his life-saving equipment into the belly? Guitar anyone?
Yes, this is a story of rogue pilot who was quickly corrected. SkyWest has taken responsibility for this and should be commended for doing so. Nevertheless, the damage was done and I hope this incident serves as an import reminder for future captains about acting with empathy and following rules instead of acting in (unfounded) fear or pride.