D’Arcee Neal ordered a wheelchair before he left San Francisco. The wheelchair would be waiting for him in Washington. He waited for the passengers to disembark the plane and then another 15 minutes as airport employees searched for an aisle chair — a narrow wheelchair that fits in an airplane’s aisle.
Needing to use the restroom Mr Neal left his seat and crawled up the aisle to the gangway, where a wheelchair awaited him. Flight attendants watched as Neal crawled, according to the report. “I expected them to ask to assist me, but they just stared,” he told CNN.
A United spokesman told CNN that the company arranged to have an aisle wheelchair ready for Neal. While passengers disembarked, the airline mistakenly said it was no longer needed, so it was removed from the area. “When we realized our error — that Mr. Neal. who has cerebral palsy was onboard and needed the aisle chair — we arranged to have it brought back, but it arrived too late,” the airline said in a statement.
The company noted that it has a 24-hour disability desk to handle questions and special requests. Neal did not complain to United about the incident. Rather, a flight attendant reported it to the company, according to CNN. United suspended the manager on duty and offered Neal $300, which he accepted.
Since the incident, Neal said, he has been contacted by people trying to file class-action lawsuits against the airline industry for problems with disability access. He said he’s not sure he’ll join them, but it’s worth considering because he believes the industry needs to “take a hard look” at their policies.
Neal has worked as a disability advocate at several nonprofits, most recently as manager of institutional giving at United Cerebral Palsy, according to his LinkedIn.