An OYD Airline Rant

I won’t apologize for her actions and I’m not sorry for what happened to you. It’s not in our contract to assist passengers with their luggage and we reserve the right to refuse assistance to anyone. If that’s what you need, then perhaps in the future, you should make other travel arrangements.

Well, to say the least, that is not the kind of response I expect to get from a customer service representative; not the Entry Level Line Memorizing Oh Dammit Did You Really Ask For A Supervisor people, and I certainly don’t expect it from a supervisor. Were I to get such a resonse I would certainly suspect that something slightly sinister was going on here at said establishment where I was complaining. After all, if I am speaking to a Customer Service Supervisor, things have reached a fairly epic proportion of shit deep inconvenience, because I pretty much go out of my anxiety issue way to avoid having conversations with people I don’t know in person (let alone on the phone). Because I have to weigh the cost of spoons spent on holding myself together long enough to get out the details of what happened, as I did recently with my complaint to Patient Admin about Nurse Midwife V, versus the benefit of getting shit cleared up so it doesn’t happen again to other people who may follow after me and patronize a company, needing services, like in this case, travel.

But here, this is exactly the case. Here, evilpuppy from Incoherent Ramblings From a Coffee Addict, who, expending great energy, spoons, and emotional well being tried to file a complaint on the completely despicable treatment doled out by the staff at United Airlines, and received this condescending and otherwise completely, well, jack-assed and ignorant response from someone who should have a working knowledge of how an employee on an airplane should treat a person with a disability. Not in an email response or even in a letter form; this response was delivered face to face. All of this after she already went to the trouble of pre-arranging accommodations for a wheelchair and made sure to note with the ticket agents — multiple times — that she would need assistance on the plane.

Just a small dose of what evilpuppy endured:

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 where I set down my special seat cushion and lumbar brace before looking around for a flight attendant to help me put my luggage in the overhead compartment. The attendant standing in the front section of economy was a blonde woman probably in her late 40s-50s and I called her over to explain that I needed her assistance because I wasn’t capable of lifting my luggage due to my disability. To my surprise, the attendant rejected my request while excusing it by saying: “If I helped everyone do that all day then MY back would be killing me by the end of the day!” I asked her how I was supposed to get my luggage stowed and her answer was: “You’ll just have to wait for someone from your row to come back here and ask them to give you a hand.” When I asked what would happen if no one would, her response to me was: “Well, normally a passenger is around to overhear something like this and they’ll offer to help with it on their own. You’ll just have to ask someone when they get back here.” Then she turned back around and went up to the front seats where she waited to “assist” other passengers.

I was completely flabbergasted, but with no other option, I sat down to wait and pulled my carry-on suitcase as close as I could to try to get it out of the way of the aisle. As I’m sure you’re aware, however, your aisles are considerably narrow and even my best efforts left half of even my small carry-on suitcase in the aisle. What’s more, rather than help me, most of the passengers simply knocked into my suitcase and shoved past me on the way to their own seats. Every time they hit the suitcase, it in turn hit me and jarred my back more and more with each strike. The plane wasn’t even half boarded and it already felt like the pain medication I’d taken less than a half hour prior to entering the airport had worn off as though I hadn’t taken it at all.

Now, I have endured some pretty meh-hessed treatment at the hands of customer service personnel. I have seen other people treated pretty horribly. I have had my disability status questioned, rejected, laughed off. I have had it compared to the fatigue of being a stay at home mother of two children (I am not downplaying the work of SAHMs, having once been one myself, but these are apples and well NOT APPLES!), and of course DIET AND EXERCISE! but never have I had someone so flatly refuse to acknowledge that 1) their co-worker/staff/employee so royally screwed up and 2) that their co-worker/staff/employee’s royal screw up really fucked my world up and over in a way that might just have rendered my next few days useless, since that might mean that I will then be spending the next two or three or more days in bed or on a couch with my feet up trying to recover from the aforementioned loss of spoons and emotional well being.

To put it concisely: Wow. That is messed up.

Not to mention, I am not sure I have ever patronized any business where it was standard procedure for other paying customers to assist a person in lieu of the paid employees who are standing around. It just seems lately that airlines are giving me more and more reasons to not give them more money than I can afford to basically be treated like crap.

I have never been told that it wasn’t the job of the person whose actual job it was to help me.

OOPS! UNITED STEWARDESSES! ITS LIKE TOTES YOUR JOB!

Once passengers are onboard the aircraft, our flight attendants can help with stowing and retrieving carry-on items, as well as providing wheelchair assistance to move passengers to and from the aircraft lavatory (although they cannot provide assistance inside the lavatory). Flight attendants may also provide assistance with taking oral medication, identifying food items on meal trays and opening packages.

Is there a single airline that isn’t treating humans like chattel these days? That isn’t outright pissing me off for one reason or another (well, Korean Air hasn’t yet, but I haven’t flown International since the Christmas debacle). I am beginning to think I will need to take a boat to get home the next time. And Space A military flights are a privilege I am willing flex more and more if I have the time and pain medication available. It might be worth it to not be herded on and off a plane like cattle, denied bathroom and water privileges for hours on end (which can be living hell to a PWD).

Oh, and also:

Then the flight is delayed. We sit on the runway for some time, and because of the new federal law requiring that airlines not keep people on the tarmac for more than 3 hours, they let us off for about 5 minutes before insisting we all get back on because we are leaving right now. We do not leave right now, or for several more hours. They let us off the plane again. Shortly thereafter, they insist that we all get back on the plane because we are leaving right now. We do not leave right now.

At some point after the second or third round of boarding and being told to sit down because we are leaving right now, a man towards the back of the plane stands up to get himself a cup of water. For context, this flight is (or was supposed to be) a 7:40 a.m. flight from Atlanta to New York, landing around 9 a.m. It is full of (mostly white) business people in suits. This man is brown, and appears to be South Asian. A flight attendant at the front of the plane, near where I’m sitting, sees him stand up and panics. She throws open the airplane door and starts yelling at him that he isn’t allowed to stand up, and that he needs to exit the plane immediately. The man is confused, and says, “What? I was only standing up to get a cup of water.” She yells out, “I don’t care, you’re off the flight! Get your things, you’re off the flight!” Water Man starts arguing with her about how he just wanted a glass of water, and he is happy to sit down now, but he’s not getting off the flight. The flight attendant says that she feels threatened and gets a supervisor, who in turn gets airport security, who in turn tell the man that he is going to be arrested and charged with a felony if he does not exit the aircraft. The man, probably smartly, exits the aircraft.

Like Jill passes over in her rant here, with all the hype of racial profiling being trendy, if you assert your right to a simple thing like a drink of fucking water while daring to be brown you can be thrown off of a flight.

Thankfully The Consumerist has picked up on this (although “who says she’s disabled”? Could we pour more salt on this?). I am not entirely sure how much good this does things like this, except that I give them all kinds of link love on Facebook when I find something relevant, so maybe this went viral? I would however, like to point out that the comments at The Consumerist are some of the worst disability blaming shite I have seen in a while (and it shows how safe my social justice bubble is). It seems that we, the PWDs, should not dare to carry on a bag if we a) need a wheelchair to get on a plane b) can’t lift it ourselves and c) have the audacity to want to be treated JUST LIKE EVERYONE ELSE ON A PLANE. Also, don’t forget, if you take pain medication, and/or dare to have a drink on the plane to settle your anxiety you are not to be believed when you make claims as to the crappy ass treatment you received. Nope.

Because there is no way in the entirety of the multiverse that you would ever remember something as abusive or as hurtful or as downright dehumanizing as what Dina the Customer Service Supervisor at SFO said to you, for the rest of your life, or how it made you feel at that moment in dog damned time. Evah.

PWDs are not human. We are not people who should be existing in the same world with those good, hard working, abled-bodied people who can do everything themselves. To hell with us, for not being able to lift our bags! Forget that we just maybe had to scrape together all the money we had to afford the damned flight in the first place so that extra twenty five dollars is NO BIG DEAL JUST CHECK YOUR DAMNED BAG YOU LAZY STONED JERKS!

Silly me for expecting human treatment for all humans.

Via commenter Livre at The Consumerist, United is apparently attempting to contact (or has, I am looking into it) in true “Oh Snap Kevin Smith Has One Million Twitter Followers DOOOOOO SOOOOOMETHING” fashion to try and do damage control sort this out.

Sort this out? That would be something, now, wouldn’t it?

h/t to my friend Kate on Facebook

3 Comments

  1. Just… ow.

    Also, if your pain med stops working because of the stress and the time and the jostling (I’m hurting in sympathy already), will they let you get water?

    Are you still allowed to follow the most important rule of medication which is keep it on you at all times? Or what, my thyroid med’s a bomb? I’m traveling by camel. Or crocodile.

    I just… that’s your job! They helped me with mine, or somebody did, because it all has to be just so and DAMN. But I don’t look disabled, I merely look young (and short) and well, a young girl must need help!

  2. I saw this when it ‘went viral’ on twitter, and was appalled. I’m not sure why I was so shocked, though, as I’ve had many similar experiences on both airplanes and other forms of transport (trains, in particular). My impairment is another of those complex ones where it’s sometimes ‘invisible’ and at other times I need mobility aids incl wheelchairs. It’s with this kind of situation that airline staff like to act as though we’re either lying about needing wheelchairs (etc) or being stroppy crips just to get attention. The idea that we might have *needs* that they are supposed to *meet* (on account of the hefty ticket price we’ve paid for the privilege of being treated like this) doesn’t seem to occur to these airline staff very often.

    I’ve had some good experiences on airplanes, too, but sadly the majority are negative. Disability Equality Training is desperately needed for all airline/airport staff who are ever likely to come into contact with disabled passengers. Especially training on complex and invisible impairments.

  3. I have to say I cringed when I saw last week (?) that evilpuppy’s experience had been posted on Consumerist. Their commentators can be some of the most cynical and nasty of any website, and I find that it’s rarely helpful to read the comments at all on that site, these days.