A pilot with Frontier Airlines, denied a quadriplegic passenger from taking his flight stating there were safety concerns. John Morris, 24, had recently flown from Denver to Dallas for a family wedding with no issues. It was when he was trying to make his way home that the disabled passenger and his family were told the captain would not allow him to take his flight.
His mother states that when a flight attendant saw John strapped in, using a seatbelt extension to secure his legs and chest, she stated she would have to have the captain’s approval. When the captain was informed of the situation, he explained that John would not be able to fly. Even after protests from John’s family and other passengers seated around him, the airline called the police and three officers boarded the aircraft. The mother states the police were sympathetic, but did nothing because he was not posing a threat to the plane or passengers. John and his family were then removed by the airline.
“The pilot did what he thought was best for the safety of this disabled person and the party, as well as the airplane, there was no wrong done here,” Frontier spokesman Peter Kowalchuk told 7News in Denver. “I don’t believe that his rights were violated. We’re in the process now of conducting an investigation.” He stated the pilot had concerns that the seatbelt extensions could be used to safely restrain the passenger and made the call to not let him fly. “The pilot is the CEO of that aircraft, if you will,” said Kowalchuk.
John and his family were allowed to take the next flight since the captain had no safety issues. In the Department of Transportation policy on disability and air travel it states (thanks to 7News for finding this):
“If the carrier’s reason for excluding a passenger on the basis of safety is that the individual’s disability creates a safety problem, the carrier’s decision must be based on a ‘direct threat’ analysis. This concept, ground in the Americans with Disabilities Act, calls on carriers to make an individualized assessment (e.g., as opposed to a generalization or stereotype about what a person with a given disability can or can’t do) of the safety threat the person is thought to pose.”
The guidelines also state that a captain is, “in command of the aircraft and crew and is responsible for the safety of the passengers, crew members, cargo, and airplane. Taken together, this means that a carrier has the legal authority to refuse to transport an individual on the basis of safety. However, this does not mean that an airline, including the pilot or other airline staff, can discriminate on the basis of disability. If the Department finds that an airline’s decision to refuse to transport an individual with a disability was not related to safety, then it will take action against the carrier. The Department will also review the airline’s actions to see if the carrier followed the required process/procedures by providing the person who was refused transportation a written statement of the reason for the refusal within 10 days.”
When asked if the airline followed the rules, Frontier’s spokesperson stated, “I’m not going to assume that it wasn’t, but we’re investigating that.” More recently Frontier has released a statement saying, “We’re sorry for the incident and are investigating its handling. In this situation we had a well-intentioned pilot who was seeking to do the right thing to ensure the safety and compliance of all involved.”
It is disturbing to see an airline not treating a person with a disability with the respect they deserve. It is extremely inconsistent for one pilot to deny a person with a disability where two others have no issues at all. It seems like the pilot in question might have had a power trip and instead of connecting with corporate to get a second opinion on the matter, he decided to call the cops. I am still having a hard time finding how John is a bigger safety issue than a child, especially when family is there to care for him. It is bad when one pilot can tarnish the image of an entire brand, but even worse for an airline to back up his actions.
I have posed questions to Frontier Airlines about their policies letting pilots remove passengers with disabilities and the inconsistencies with a captain’s ability to remove passengers. At the time of posting this, I have not heard back from them.
UPDATE: I realized that I wrote my email to the wrong email address and to be fair, they haven’t had the opportunity to reply. Will be trying with the new email soon.