A disabled Virginia man on a transcontinental flight reportedly had to get down on his hands and knees, and drag himself off the plane after the airline on which he flew failed to provide him with an aisle wheelchair.
D’Arcee Neal, who has cerebral palsy, was waiting to get off the United Airlines plane after it landed in Arlington, Virginia, from San Francisco, California, on Tuesday. The flight crew was supposed to provide him with an aisle-sized wheelchair – a narrow, specialized wheelchair for disabled passengers – to disembark the carrier, but the help never came.
After waiting for more than a half-hour and repeatedly being told to wait, the wheelchair bound man decided that he could not sit any longer. The problem was, Neal had to use the bathroom and due to his condition, he could not use the one in the airplane.
“I was trying to get them to understand that this is why I don't want to wait another 15 to 20 minutes,” Neal said.
Taking the matters in his own hands, the 29-year-old crawled down the aisle on all fours to get to his regular wheelchair that awaited him by the doorway.
“I was like, ‘I don't have time for this,’” Neal told NBC. “I decided to get out and crawl down the plane to my chair.”
What’s more appalling is the fact that the flight attendants just watched as the disabled man crawled down half the length of the airplane.
“I expected them to ask to assist me, but they just stared,” he explained, calling the incident “humiliating.”
As it turns out, Neal himself is a disability rights activist who was returning from California after giving a speech on accessible transit. He has worked for years as a disability advocate for nonprofits and currently works for the federal government. While in San Francisco, he also had a meeting with the car hire company Uber to discuss disabled accessibility policies.
Meanwhile, United Airlines acknowledged its mistake and issued an apology statement – much to Neal’s surprise, who was not expecting anything at all.
“As customers began to exit the aircraft, we made a mistake and told the agent with the aisle chair that it was no longer needed, and it was removed from the area,” the airline said in a statement. “When we realized our error – that Mr. Neal was onboard and needed the aisle chair – we arranged to have it brought back, but it arrived too late.”
Moreover, the airline reportedly suspended the manager on duty and offered Neal $300 in compensation, which he accepted.
"Quite frankly, I was just shocked, because this had happened a couple of times before (with various airlines), and no company had ever bothered to apologize when they've done something wrong," he said. “I just hope they learn from this.”
As shocking and degrading as this incident was, it is not the first time a disabled passenger had to experience something like this. Apparently, in 2014, there were more than 27,500 complaints in reference to similar incidents – indicating this is a common occurrence, according to the National Disability Rights Network.
Furthermore, the complaints have sadly gone up 9 percent in the past year.