To sum up the story: a 47 year old man with cerebral palsy who uses a wheelchair to get around was told by US Airways that he was "too disabled to fly alone" on a PBI-MCI flight last month. In a statement issued after the fact, US Airways framed the incident as a safety issue, stating that company policy requires passengers with severe mobility impairments to travel with someone who is able to assist them in evacuating the aircraft should an emergency occur.
The unresolved question is whether US Airways broke the law. The Air Carrier Access Act genre rally prohibits passenger discrimination on the basis of disability. But it also states that an airline may require a disabled passenger to be accompanied by an attendant if that person has a "mobility impairment so severe that the individual is unable to assist in his or her own evacuation from the aircraft." (49 U.S.C. 41705). This may apply here. I think Johnnie Tuitel, the disabled passenger who claims to have flown about 500,000 miles over his lifetime, knew this and that’s why he told CNN, "They basically told me I was too disabled to fly and I had to fly with a companion and I had to purchase that companion’s ticket." (emphasis mine).
The ACAA also states, though the language is a bit vague, that if a passenger contends that he can assist in his evacuation during an in-flight emergency, the carrier may disagree and require the passenger to travel with an attendant, but the carrier cannot charge for the transportation of the attendant. Thus, the question remains whether US Air broke the law by throwing off Mr. Tuitel despite his assurances he would not be helpless during an emergency, while not offering to fly a companion for free. (BTW, are you thinking what I’m thinking?)
I conclude that US Airways was legally permitted to deny passage to Tuitel without a companion, but probably acted too hastily. They should have properly ascertained whether he was able to assist in his evacuation (whatever that means…) if an emergency arose rather than hastily kicking him off the plane. They also should have informed him of his right to travel with an attendant at no extra charge.
What are your thoughts? Below is Mr. Tuitel’s interview with CNN.