American Airlines Checked My Dignity at the Gate

By Mark E. Smith

As one with cerebral palsy, using a wheelchair, I’ve been blessed. For two decades, I’ve built a career in the corporate business world. That career has allowed me to fly on hundreds of trips, from Hawaii to Spain, to many destinations in-between. I, like most business travelers, crisscross the friendly skies from event to event, working to support my wife and two daughters, pursuing the success most of us wish.

However, on March 27, 2017, on American Airlines, I saw a dramatically different side to the world of air travel that I’ve long known.

See, I’d finished five days working a trade show in Southern California, and as I waited to board American Airlines Flight 121, departing at 11:30 am, from Los Angeles to Philadelphia, all was typical. I had my ticket in hand, my wheelchair was tagged for cargo, and I was looking forward to a smooth flight home. Soon, I boarded, as did all of the other passengers, and as we sat buckled in, the Boeing 737 warmed up for departure.

Seated in row 24, my attention was called away from looking out the window, to a large group of American Airlines’ flight attendants, gate agents and ground crew – a sea of varying uniforms and two-way radio chatter – coming up the aisle. Without speaking to me, they asked the two women sitting next to me to move from their seats, explaining that they were removing me from the plane. I was immediately alarmed, not knowing what was going on, and asked what the issue was? Everyone in the American Airlines group paused and the entire plane was voiceless – just the mechanical hum of the 737.

I looked from one person to the next to the next, and all just stared. Finally, a flight attendant exclaimed, “This plane isn’t leaving without him!” and sat beside me. Her sudden burst of emotion confused me even more. I was then told that communication between the captain and ground crew instructed that he wouldn’t accept me and my wheelchair on the flight.

I was dumbfounded. American Airlines personnel were refusing to transport me because I am a person with a disability who uses a wheelchair. This scene was unquestionably a violation of a number of federal laws, and I was stunned that it was happening to me. However, in that moment, I kept all emotions in check, explaining that my wheelchair was, in fact, airline compliant, easily transported with a compacted size of merely 24” wide by 32” high, that it’s always easily loaded, that I often fly for business. The American Airlines group’s response was simply to continue removing me from the plane in a hurried fashion – Captain’s orders. I knew then that there was no reasoning with this dehumanizing situation. Compliance was clearly my only option, as is often the insidious nature of blatant discrimination.

As I scooted across the seats toward the crowd, having to transfer into a dolly-like chair so that they could roll me off of the plane, all of the other passengers watched, silent. Although many clearly heard that I was being removed because American Airlines didn’t want me and my wheelchair on the flight’s manifest, no one questioned why, in 2017, a businessman with a disability was being ejected from a plane? In that moment, I realized the gravity of it all: I was being stripped not just of my civil rights, but of my humanity. For the first time in my life, in the microcosm of that American Airlines Boeing 737, I was discarded as a human being – literally.

Think for a moment how surreal and painful it was for me in that cabin, where one minute I was a businessman traveling home to his wife and children, to the next moment of being displayed to rows of countless passengers as less of a human due to using a wheelchair. Imagine how emotionally breaking that is.

They rolled me down the aisle, off of the plane, and parked me on the gangway, totally immobile, strapped to a dolly chair, as the plane pulled away. I was discarded cargo.

As I sat there truly helpless, unable to move, not knowing how or when I’d get home – or even where my wheelchair was – I realized that I had to make an emotionally life-saving choice. I could allow American Airlines and its personnel to strip me of my dignity and degrade my humanity. Or, I could take control of my true being. Instead of expressing anger, I could maintain grace. Instead of experiencing anxiety, I could evoke strength. And, instead of external tears, I could hint an internal smile. And, with that, there I sat, deep in introspection, hearing the plane fly away, absorbing the fact that I, based on disability, was deemed less than human by American Airlines and its personnel.

As I waited in the unknown, I was comforted by words I heard long ago by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.: We must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope.


Author: Mark E. Smith

The literary side of the WheelchairJunkie

177 thoughts on “American Airlines Checked My Dignity at the Gate”

  1. I hope you sue their sorry asses! Grace is one thing and I applaud you for it, but resistance and a good kick in their pocket book might feel pretty satisfying. So sorry you had to endure their ignorance and cruelty.

  2. Mark this pains me to read what you went through I hope that you get some justice for what took place on that flight. Keep strong buddy

  3. I am horrified. This is not the America I know. I haven’t flown American for many years but will make a point of continuing my boycott. Also will reach out and smack them down. As a large person, I have come to the point in my life where I purchase two seats for my comfort. But most airlines even make that process difficult (purchasing two seats).

    I will not fly Southwest because of their dehumanizing way of seating me– I have to put a “Seat Reserved” sign on the extra seat and then be the target of many stares and glares of all others as they board!

  4. But Mark, then what happened. I am left thinking of you strapped in that horrible wooden thing they call an aisle chair, sitting there wondering where your w/c was and what was the reason for this horrible way to be treated.

    1. Sorry to read of your experience. As a past co-worker who could listen to you speak and educate all day long, I cannot believe you would be treated like this. Keep up the fight!

  5. I flew American a year ago. When I told them I needed to preboard and why the person changed my seat to an emergency exit seat. The flight attendant refused to help me put my luggage in the overhead bin, and then in front of a whole plan proceeded to yell at me for sitting in the seat they gave me and accused me of faking my handicap. Next flight that day the crew refused to let me preboard saying my disability didn’t qualify, and then refused to let my friend carry my bag on the plan because she was only allowed to have two bags in her hand. It didn’t matter that I was in so much pain and my pain meds wore off or that I almost passed out because I had to stand for a long time to get on the plane, or was having panic attacks from worry someone was going to hit me in my back in my shunt area. I refuse to fly American ever again.

    1. American Airlines is the worst; crews and customer service dept are simply Horrible. No one should fly them

  6. I flew American a year ago. When I told them I needed to preboard and why the person changed my seat to an emergency exit seat. The flight attendant refused to help me put my luggage in the overhead bin, and then in front of a whole plan proceeded to yell at me for sitting in the seat they gave me and accused me of faking my handicap. Next flight that day the crew refused to let me preboard saying my disability didn’t qualify, and then refused to let my friend carry my bag on the plan because she was only allowed to have two bags in her hand. It didn’t matter that I was in so much pain and my pain meds wore off or that I almost passed out because I had to stand for a long time to get on the plane, or was having panic attacks from worry someone was going to hit me in my back in my shunt area. I refuse to fly American ever again.

  7. Omg! My heart goes out to you. I am so sorry you were discriminated for your handicap by American Airlines. Shame on them! Shame on American Airlines! I will boycott them in the future. God Bless you.

  8. oy vey – Mark, Did you ever figure out why this happened ?
    Please let us know how this turns out – it affects us all.

  9. I have not heard a story like this in more than a decade or more. Yet it reminds me of the bad old days before the ADA and Air Carrier Access Act were made law. Have you followed up with American and how did you get home?

  10. What happened to you once they humiliated you and dumped you in the jetway? Were you able to get help? Did they at least unload your chair? This is outrageous. I hope you are filling a formal complaint.

  11. The pilot needs to be fired immediately, and this passenger should fly free for life! This is unconscionable! As a parent of a child with cerebral palsy, I can’t even begin to understand this pilot and his deep hatred. Unbelievable!!!

  12. Horrible… They should give you free flights for live and fire those crew members. My nephew works for American Airlines and I will certainly be asking him about this situation.

  13. I do belive that they just made you a lot of money because of the ignorance of one person. God bless the usa

  14. I don’t even recognize our country anymore. Fear is nurtured and compassion abandoned. We are on a slippery slope.

  15. Hi Mark
    Hopefully you will get some recompense for this unconscionable act. Hopefully you will get your day in court and American Airlines will discontinue this illegal practice. Fight the good fight. Sorry it happened to you. Kevin Condict

  16. OMGOSH I will never EVER fly American Airlines again! I am so very sorry that this happened to you and I admire your grace and your strength thru it all! God Bless!

  17. Mark,
    I hope you’ve contacted and retained competent counsel. With the mergers and contraction of flying choices, it gets harder and harder to get where one wants to go but I now have eliminated AA as an option.

  18. Omg I’m so so sorry this happened I actually hate American Airlines we never fly them they are the worse!! I hope you sue them because you deserve to!

  19. I hope you sue the pants off of them. And if I were you, I’d sue the airline in one suit and the pilot in a separate suit. Totally unnecessary and disgusting and I’m sorry you had to go through that. I am embarrassed for those idiots that did that to you because they are all clearly too stupid to be embarrassed for themselves. I applaud you for keeping your cool and not letting the situation break you.

  20. This disturbs me very much, how can they get away with this! I hope you made it home safely and in a timely manner. I hope you are very well compensated and this pilot loses his job!

  21. I really hope you plan to sue them. That’s blatantly discrimination and they need to pay for it. I have friends who also are chair bound and I hate seeing people, especially major companies discriminate like that. That’s just appalling. I commend you for being calm, I would not have been so calm. I’d be gathering names for the lawsuit.

  22. I would want to know who the hell was the pilot of this plane to make such a sickening heart wrenching completely callous decision to do this.!
    What the hell is wrong with this pilot and American Airlines? I haven’t flown American since many years ago when 4 of my friend with my husband and I flew to Hawaii. We got on American in LA to go overseas my friends seat was broken so broken it was tilted leaning in the aisle. She called attention to this to stewardess only to be told it’s broken because of the fat passengers who insist on breaking AA seats. She sat like that for the 7 hr flight. Someone has to help this man. I can’t imagine a handicapped person not know where his chair is or getting help it’s indescribable .. they should be sued they violated so many laws ..

  23. Unreal! Bless you for sharing and your choice to stay classy. This should cost the pilot his job. Shame on him for demanding other carry out his disgraceful action. Would love to hear/see American Airlines response.
    We do not air travel often with our adult son with CP but I will say we’ve been truly impressed with Southwest’s compassion, professionalism and many efforts to ensure our son had a good experience.

  24. This is terribly common, but I’d guess that not many wheelchair users, even today, are brave enough to travel via air, solo for this exact reason! They took advantage of the fact that you were alone and unable to advocate for yourself in the moment due to the fact you were literally dependent on such persons for your welfare and reuniting with your mobility (power chair). But the thing with CP is that I have a feeling that they will soon understand the depth of their error because your story has the ability to change the airline industry, even in this administration. My little sister (who is now in her 30’s) has CP. Lost and damaged power wheelchairs or dismantled wheelchair batteries were considered just an expected event when traveling. We could never ever, ever travel anywhere (even Italy) without reassurance that we could get spare parts and a mechanic upon arrival and or when the power chair decided to miraculously re-emerge from the bowel of the plane weeks later. I’d say get your experience and story out there! People should think twice before treating people like that whether they have a disability or not. They should think twice before judging a book by their cover. Having a physical disability doesn’t = less intelligent, less capable or less able to sue their you know what’s for discrimination and violation of the ADA.

  25. So sorry that this has happened to you. Such blatant discrimination seems inexcusable in this day and age. There needs to be a civil rights complaint filed against the airline. They owe you, at least, an explanation and an APOLOGY. Even with those, I can’t imagine you ever flying American again.

  26. That pilot and all who rallied with him or her should be fired so this never happens again. This needs to be brought to public attention for a positive ending.

  27. This is disgusting behaviour. What the heck? Please update us with what happened after that. I hope this captain receives a reprimand of some kind and disability awareness and legalities training at the very LEAST. A refund and compensation is in order for you. I hope you were rebooked on another flight and returned home safely. I travel in a manual wheelchair and have had one broken during air travel. ‘It was like that when we took it out of the hold, something must have fallen on it during the flight.’ Was the rubbish I was spouted. ‘It is the risk you take’…

  28. So very sorry to hear you were subjected to such indignity! Yet, you maintained yours. Wow! A few years back, my Partner (she is a quadriplegic due to Guilliane-Barre) and I took a flight back home on American Airlines, it was a horrible experience. The boarding process was done with anger & resentment by staff and we felt very uncomfortable & even worse, unwelcome. Somehow we were provided with a glimmer of light when much to our relief, the kindest, warmest and reassuring gentleman sat next to us. He was a Southwest Pilot, the airline we usually fly! His calm & wonderful way relieved our stress and fear and every time we even consider American, we remind ourselves of their chaotic process and their disdainful manner! Best of wishes to you, Mark. This all brought tears to my eyes & left me shaking. It also angered me, an emotion I don’t allow myself very often. Better travels ahead.

  29. This is very disturbing, did the airline ever come back to give an apology and explanation for this awful treatment?

  30. I think that filing a federal discrimination complaint against the airline and the captain, personally, would be in order. After all, Dr King also said,”Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

    Also, please, credit the many disabled warriors who suffered threat, abuse and sometimes serious harm to get the federal laws that allow you to travel freely most of the time.

  31. My son had troubles with American Airlines on several occasions. We didn’t have a choice of airlines because the National Institutes of Health contracted with them. We flew with them over 50 times before I finally got mad enough and sued them. I won and they lost. I now travel on Southwest.

  32. So what happened next? Why did the captain not want you on the plane how did you get home? Did they get your wheelchair and baggage off the plane?

  33. My son had troubles with American Airlines on several occasions. We didn’t have a choice of airlines because the National Institutes of Health contracted with them. We flew with them over 50 times before I finally got mad enough and sued them. I won and they lost. I now travel on Southwest

  34. Can you please give us some details on this? It sounds absolutely horrible, I can’t even imagine going through something like this? Did they give you details on why they were asking you to de-plane? How long did they leave you on the jetway (you said you could hear your plane take off)? Did they find your chair? How quickly did they re-route you? It sounds like an absolute nightmare, and I am sure that many more people than myself would be interested in knowing how this unfolded and why. Wishing you all the best.

  35. Wow! I can’t even express my emotions about this. This is not human. But you showed significant grace. Good for you! I respect you so much and I don’t even know you.

  36. That is one of the most disgusting thing I have ever read. I am sure, there were some on that flight, that wished they had the guts you do, to work and be free of the chair mentality. Sorry this happened to you. Glad you “stood” for us all with attitude and greater control than AA.
    I hope that you and the family fly free for the rest of your lives and AA now puts their money out, to offer an apology. for their rude, senseless behavior. IT can not be bought, BUT they can sure try! We are people. Maybe some have to learn this the hard way.
    Thank you Mark Smith!

  37. I’m truly sorry and shocked to hear about this. I would not let this go. I would make them get to the bottom of this. They need to give you an explanation, more than “the pilot didn’t want you on his flight”. That is just not good enough! I always fly American. I wont be anymore. I’m sorry you were meant to feel this way. I hope you keep your head up and know there is nothing wrong with you- just other people!

  38. Unbelievable!! That does not make any sense. We have flown with my daughter-several years ago- and her wheelchair does not fold up. We have never had any issues. Is this a new regulation?

  39. Disgusting. Had you been a bum from the street instead of a business traveler, it would still be disgusting. I hope an explanation and an apology are forthcoming.

  40. What the hell is wrong with this world. That pilot should be fired. I would sue them fiur the humiliation.

  41. I am saddened that this all took place. My heart breaks for those who treated a fellow human that way. My spirit lifts you to a place those that treated you this way can only aspire to be. Shame on those involved. God Bless you.

  42. Please tell me that there is more to this story. Were you traveling with a power or Manual chair? Was the issue about your batteries? Did the airline explain or compensate? The lack of facts here leaves me sceptical.

  43. I really hope there is more to this story or I am very upset that any human would be removed from anywhere due to a disability!

  44. Please please PLEASE submit this to the DOT! This was a complete violation and deserves an investigation by the DOT.

  45. Very bad.

    Out of interest, did you have hold luggage? If you did, AA flew the plane with luggage but not the passenger, which is one of the key don’ts in security and one would question not only their discrimination and but also their attitude to security.

  46. This is an injustice to all. Anyone of us, could have mobility issues due to a variety of issues. There should have been a better explanation to this man.

  47. What is the name of this Captain? That will be who to ask for more details (or file suit against) regarding this incident.

  48. Hi,

    Have you learned why this pilot did this? It seems as though you should sue the airlines. What is the upshot?

    I very much enjoy your writing. Thank you.

  49. I am sorry this happened to you. This has happened to my husband too. It was several years ago and he has stopped traveling as a result of many such experiences.

  50. What eventually happened? I have a son who uses a wheelchair and I avoid taking him on a plane for this very reason. I would be calling my lawyer.

  51. I am appalled by this, and eagerly await the next chapter to find out what bizarre excuse American is going to trot to try to excuse the inexcusable.

  52. The indignity you suffered, as well as the blatant disregard of Federal Laws shown by the American Asshats (AA) shows how very little regard that Corporation has for its customers. Their “If you don’t like, drive or walk” attitude is so very disgusting. And, if you ever read these, finish your story — you were sitting, introspective as hell, and we don’t know what happened to you next.

  53. I don’t understand this. We fly American regularly and stow a large power wheelchair in baggage. Please share the rest of the story, there must be more. What was the explanation? And did they get you out on the next flight? Surely there is some explanation. So sorry you had to go through this –

  54. I cant believe how callus the pilot and crew were toward this man. This is inexcusable. I will never fly with American Airlines again….never!!

  55. as a person with disabilities[although not to your extent] I find this very disturbing, that a “pilot” can decide to go above and beyond regular airline policy and in general just be a jerk. It would not take much digging to find out who that pilot is. I wonder how he would enjoy such a “public shaming”. I have always been of the mind that “educating” those who single me out is much better that causing a scene because those who do are usually the very “young” being shushed by their Mothers. However this is different, This is an adult, in a position of authority, taking that authority too far. You do what you like however, if this was me I would be taking this all the way to the top. He is now affecting your ability to feed your family [and to get back to them for that matter] and he should be made an example of by if only with the airline he works for 😦

  56. Where do they get off with this? I truly hope the aclu totally eats them alive for this. Who was this captain? What does he have to say for himself? I am totally disappointed in American Airlines. I am truly sorry that you were treated this way.

  57. Oh my goodness! How much I would like to believe this didn’t really happen. How ridiculous. American Airlines owes you big time! I think you should sue them. Hit them where it hurts – the wallet. I am further disappointed that no one on the plane came to your assistance. I hope your will be assured by reactions to your post.

  58. Hopefully you contacted AA corporate office to report your horrible treatment and to file a formal complaint against the airline and pilot. We are all curious as to what their response was once you told them about their discrimination.

  59. I don’t think this was an “American Airlines” decision. American is a strong advocate on inclusion in their workforce and I don’t believe that they discriminate against their passengers either. This was a pilots decision and a formal complaint should be made to Chairman and CEO Doug Parker and the question asked “What was the basis for your removal?” At that point, which you formally know why, you should contact an attorney familiar with the ADA and pursue your rights as a human being with a disability with rights you are entitled too under the Americans with Disibility act!
    If there were other possibilities, controlled by you, deemed to be a logical or reasonable act for your flight refusal, or deemed unsafe, then you should own up to it, make the corrections needed and chalk up the experience as a lesson learned and a apology to the airlines made. Things usually happen for a reason and most people, not all, are sympathetic to the plight of the disabled and will stand behind you as long as the cause is just and the facts are based on facts and not untruths!

    1. American is usually rude to me and my husband who uses a wheelchair. They have even damaged his chair multiple times. I have experienced this myself.

    2. This is happening more and more. And AA has done nothing about it. Time and time again, they say they will investigate. But they don’t do anything about these situations.

  60. I just read your story. I am also disabled myself, quadriplegic. I can’t believe it! That late they legally can do that. I have to ask though. Did anything happen after this situation. Did you report it? I will be traveling to Vegas on Sunday coming from Minnesota. I’m flying with southwestand it’s my first flight. Any information you can give me would be great

    1. Southwest Airlines was absolutely wonderful with my wheelchair and my service dog, and kind and generous to us. My wheelchair had not a scratch on it. Also, they went beyond the call of duty that’s required of them in assisting some very elderly passengers who were very mobility impaired and each traveling alone to see family. Do tell them how to shut off the main fuse and recline/straighten the seat, and check in at the gate you will be departing from to let them know you’ll need help/the wheelchair to be loaded. The TSA check in is not fun for wheelchair users but I managed just fine.

  61. My husband is in a wheelchair and EVERY single time Philadelphia is involved and American Airlines we have an issue. One time they literally screamed and yelled at us, cursing and everything, saying we had to get off the plane in literally 5 minutes. I live in Philadelphia and so if you are traveling to or from Philadelphia, American Airlines is usually rude or just isn’t helpful. Anywhere else nationally and internationally, we have never had an issue. we just got back from Japan and we flew Delta and they were SO NICE and there wasn’t a scratch on his chair. But American Airlines usually damages his chair or are very rude to us.

  62. How DARE American Airlines and the (WILL NOT DIGNIFY HIS STATUS) IDIOT that was flying the plane, do such a thing. I don’t care WHAT the reasoning was. This is a COMPLETE DECAY of rights. I don’t fly of r end but will NEVER use American Airlines, EVER. I pass on that if enough individuals do this, the airline WILL FEEL THE MONETARY IMPACT.

    As an American (ANYONE who has disabilities and travels), I am appalled by this behaviour. A law suit NEEDS to be forthcoming.

    I am sorry to hear of this DESPICABLE event.

  63. I’m sorry this awful event took place. I hope you take legal action against American Airlines. If enough legal action and public awareness maybe people will choose to not use AA.

  64. I hope you have notified AA of this behavior. I applaud you for accepting your situation with grace. Would love to know the rest of the story!

  65. Just awful. I always say you can judge a society by how it treats old people children and animals now I add special needs.

    1. I’m not disabled and I’d say being rude to customers is the norm for the gate crew and FA’s. My stepdad actually works for them as a mechanic and he’s complained about rude and belligerent crews at the gate. Sad, really AA used to be a great airline but it’s garbage now.

  66. Mark, I am so sorry this happened to you! What American Airlines did to you is unconscionable! I will NEVER fly with them again! I pray you get resolution to this debacle, including a very large apology.
    I would NEVER stand by while someone was treated like that. It is incredibly disturbing that no passengers came to your aid! For that I am very very sorry! May you life from here on be blessed with an abundance of love & happiness!!!

  67. That is totally disgusting, I am so shocked that discrimination of this calibre is still happening. You did not ask for this challenge in life, as any other person has not asked for their own personal struggles. Yet they have no reason to treat you this way. Utterly appalling, sue their arsess off.😡

  68. I really hope you file a lawsuit, if not for yourself, then for all the others that will go after you.

  69. This is desturbing on so many levels. Who the Hell does this pilot think he is, discriminating against Me. Smith or anyone else.
    This pilot needs to be fired.

  70. 😡 this better make the national news. So sorry you had to go through this. Hit them where it hurts! You could not be compensated enough after this! Each airline ought to have a wheelchair user on staff for training of ALL employees to eliminate this or a similar ridiculous circumstance. I applaud you for and sharing and bringing this to light.

  71. Mark, I’ve read your work online for 9 or 10 years now–about the time I first started looking for a wheelchair. I’ve long admired your patience and how you handle problems that arise–you are a great model for those of us who experience difficulties.

    With the most egregious act of discrimination we experienced (being booted from a museum, along with all other wheelchair users), I wish later that we had filed suit. It wasn’t about the money; it’s that I still hear about other museums discriminating on occasion–and most of them follow the NEA guidelines for museums, which include answering questions about how they will deliberately make museums more accessible. Since this was a traveling exhibit brought over by the director of LACMA, I know that LACMA probably continues to discriminate, ban service dogs, and force people to use their wheelchairs instead, even if they cannot sit in them.

    It’s also about showing other people that they should not be complicit in supporting the discrimination–as happened with you, and with me. Local administration agreed to LACMA’s demand that they need to discriminate, even though they employ a wheelchair user themselves!

    People need to be held accountable. I would never harm a small business for small inadvertent access issues, or ask that an elevator button be moved by an inch, as DOJ has sometimes required. But deliberate harm and discrimination–that’s very painful. I know this kind of thing is extraordinarily stressful for weeks (and for me, months–I already found getting out difficult).

    I feel that we are getting to the point that people expect the apology is enough. And that allows people to discriminate–because they know if there’s a complaint–they just have to apologize later. It’s about accountability.

  72. I also had experiences with Cathey Pacific Airlines in 2007 when they had the total of 14 wheelchairs, but my stand out because it’s hot pink. When my parents and I got to Hong Kong to change flight to China, they denied me to take the airport wheelchair to China. Also like you, I have Cerebral Palsy. Dad talked to Air China representative to convinced them to let me borrow the wheelchair. . This was after the 2003 incident at SFO. In January of 2003 it was first time in a long time that we went back and was the first time since the 9/11 attack took place. I was embarrassed by the FTA because they padded me down in the middle of the area after the scanners and took about 1 hour and had me take my top off and luckily I had a vest underneath but still people can look at me like I’m crazy. Had to do swap on every part of the wheelchair; scan the pad each time they swap apart of my wheelchair. So I do know how frustrated at times with a disability. Especially traveling to places. I saw on the news last year that flight attendants threw a customer onto his seat instead of assisting him onto his seat. I think we’re being emotionally and mentally abuse and harass and that’s not right.

  73. I am appalled. You were incredible while being treated horribly. Inhumanw. Please tell American Airlines when this disabled person wants to fly I will not be on their airlines ever again.
    Respectfully submitted
    Ann St Croix

  74. You’ve got to be kidding, right?! Most disgusting thing I’ve ever heard of! Talk about blatant discrimination?!!!! I was a flight attendant for US for 36+ years and never ever heard of such a thing!!!!!

  75. Shame on everyone on that plane for not standing up against the people treating you this way. If I had been on that flight they would have had to go through me to get you off that plane. Totally believe you had this handled in your own but one person should never have to go up against a crowd of bullies.

  76. American is loosing money because of this.

    They don’t use logic. I was charged $200 for flight change when they caused delay and made me miss my connection. I sat on plane for 3 hours when I asked for water the response was “this isn’t business class, cabin service will begin once in air”. They refused to let us off the plane, use our phone or get up. We were on side of take off runway in Charlotte and did not move for hours. NO phone use because we were not at gate.

    They lost 20 million dollars because my company did not use them ever again.

  77. Amazing. I am yet do fly and this is one of my biggest fears. However I hope if I am unlucky enough to be placed in a similar situation, that I have you level of dignity and grace.

  78. I have a horror story from American Airlines as well. They weren’t sure about my wheelchair battery. I told them they were sealed and that I’ve flown before without issue. They kept everyone at a standstill for an hour and a half while they waited for a mechanic to confirm what I said. Then they offered to continue as planned but ship my wheelchair in a few days. I started to demand that they take me off the plane and get me a new flight, which fell on deaf ears. Eventually, they put the chair on the plane and we took off. By the time we landed, my wheelchair was a wreck. They turned it on its side and just slid it around. American Airlines eventually covered $3,000 worth of damages to my wheelchair.

    Never again.

  79. Mr. Smith, I am a Flight Attendant for American Airlines and am appalled by this letter! Never have I heard of this happening in my 21 years of flying. You have my sincere apologies for this unfortunate turn of events. It will be a pleasure to serve you in the future and kuddos to the flight attendant who stood up for you!

  80. Thank you for sharing your experiences with us. I hope that you are finding ways to care for yourself as you navigate the coming weeks and months. Choose whatever you feel called to do in response that will help to heal the hurt that was caused, truly. Healing yourself brings healing for all of us who travel through life on wheels, with different abilities.

  81. I am proud of you for keeping your composure. But I am mad as hell at American Airlines for their crass disrespect for a fellow HUMAN BEING. How is this possible? How is this LEGAL? Please, fight back!

  82. Lainey Feingold is an excellent ADA lawyer/champion. Please share your story with her. She has a Twitter feed with high visibility.

    Perhaps the thing that troubles me the most is that no one other than that one stewardess spoke up on your behalf. I’m so sorry this happened to you.

  83. I hope you are suing the airline it is outrageously cruel what they did to you. I hope you were able to get home and I hope they gave you your wheelchair back. In this day and age I still can’t believe how inhuman some people are.

  84. I had similar situation with Cathey Pacific Airlines where my hot pink wheelchair left at ,SFO and when we got to Hong Kong.they wouldn’t let me borrow a wheelchair just because it’s an airport wheelchair. Dad talked to Air China Airlines.and had thst let me borrow a wheelchair until I got my wheelchair. I also have Cerebral Palsy which I need a wheelchair to get around. Without a wheelchair, I don’t have any feet.

  85. We are Australian and flew United Airlines years ago. They didn’t even care about my welfare or my mother who ended up exhausted who ended up stretching me out as best as she could. They didn’t have ANY blankets or never offered a helping hand.

    I’m sorry to hear about your experience with American Airlines. I’m horrified actually.

  86. Thank you for sharing…thank you for being better than most! There are no words I can say to convey hope so I’ll just say, I’m truly sorry this happened to you. May this never happen again. I hope American Airlines acknowledged this horrible crime they committed & pay/repent/change their ways.

  87. Please seek legal counsel, and continue to write about it. I liked your MLK jr quote – he would not have been silent, either. Demand an explanation from the company, and an apology. And damages.

  88. Bravo, for your bravery, Mr. Smith. What American Air did to you is Criminal, on so many levels. Making your horrendous experience public, is the right thing to do. Most airlines and the personal on board wouldn’t “treat” an animal, much less a human being, the way you were.
    God bless you. I apologize to you, for the inhuman treatment you received, since American Air is too proud, to do so.

  89. Mark, this sounds like a bad dream! I know you’ve since educated the airline regarding their inexcusable action. You displayed such grace. You also continue to make an impact!

  90. I HAVE WORKED AT AA for 30 years as a crew member and have never witnessed anything like this ever. I am so so sorry for this horrible callus experience. It wouldn’t have happened on my flight. I would have gotten off and sat with you. There is no excuse for this in my opinion. Its against the law and that captain should lose his job.

  91. This is so wrong in every conceivable way. They are lucky it was not me or it would have been a very ugly scene. Of course I know I would also be in the wrong. But that is how I know I would have reacted. And when I got home I would be calling a lawyer. Maybe I wouldn’t wait until I get home.

  92. Reblogged this on Phil Varlese and commented:
    I’ve traveled American in the past, and have seen them service the disabled in a kind and courteous manner. The fact that a pilot could make that decision based on “Captain’s orders” has me contemplating not using American for future travel.

    I hope Mr. Smith seeks legal action against American,since the captain was acting as an agent of the company when he was removed from the plane, and shame on the other passengers for not speaking up on his behalf.

  93. Aside from this atrocious incident, I don’t know why ANY American would fly “American” Airlines. Remember that these are the incompetent idiots who allowed 9/11 to happen. Their shoddy security and careless employees are the reason why they were targeted as the airline that would be used and the terrorists got it SO RIGHT. I will never set foot on that crap-ass airline, EVER.

  94. Mark- I’m so sorry this happened to you! I’m glad you had one flight attendant on your side and hopefully the pilot is looking for another job.

  95. Unbelievable! I wish I had read this before booking my flight yesterday ugh!!! Complete insanity! I truly hope whomever is responsible for this is eliminated from their position.

  96. How can his happen? How can Amerian Airlines ignore the American with Disabilities Act? I will never fly on Amerian Airlines again.

  97. You have indeed been utterly humiliated as a human being. As others have said sue their butt pockets off – yet one huge glaring piece of evidence is all the people especially those within ear shot who did nothing, said nothing responded with nothing.
    When we remain silent we not only become complicit in the perpetrated act, we also become the problem. We who remain silent when support was the true option show the world how dehumanised, trained to exercise our psychopathic tendencies of zero empathy.
    We also demonstrate the loss of humanity living in this nightmare called the 21st century.

    The blowback from situations such as this is further imprisonment, further degradation of each who stay silent and the deserving of no sympathy, outrage etc when the hammer further knocks the nail deeper into the collective coffin.

  98. How absolutely horrifying that American Airlines took it upon themselves in such a bullying way to pick on the one person who couldn’t fight back. I would like to hear the rest of the story!

  99. My son is a below the knee amputee but 23 years old and strong. He was sitting in an exit row on an American flight last fall. He too was humiliated by American Airlines for his prosthetic leg and taken out of his seat. Maybe this is a problem with American?

    1. I had a similar experience a few years ago with United, all it was in reverse. I was left on the plane for more than 30 minutes after the last passenger had left because the captain had not notified the airport in advance that there was a passenger with a wheelchair on board. Unfortunately the only disability related law in the United States that applies to airlines is the Air Carriers Act, which was passed in the 80s and only results in fines after multiple complaints occur. Airlines are not covered by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). We all need to contact our elected representatives and change that because situations like this happen too frequently.

  100. American Airlines should be fined & all should know of this disgrace! Strip AA of the LA to Philadelphia route! Unfortunately the soulless company only pays attention when it impacts the bottom line.

    I apologize to you on behalf of all who couldn’t help you.

  101. I hope you hired a civil rights attorney and sued the pilot and American Airlines! I am disappointed that not one person… no, that the all passengers did not get up and walk off the plane with you!!!

  102. Mark I’m sorry that you had to experience this.
    I would have lost my mind and made a scene, grabbing people as they dragged me down the isle. You kept your composure and I applaud you for being calm. I hope that you hold this airline responsible for their actions and are seeking legal counsel. I have had issues with the way the airlines treat my power chair. Every time I travel I get pieces of my chair handed to me. I think they literally throw luggage on our wheel chairs. Be strong! You have a voice! Make pay for their ignorance!

  103. Mark: This is just so wrong and American Airlines must be exposed for this unlawful act. Please do not be gracious and just let this go. The public needs to be made aware of the risk of flying American Airlines if you have a disability. And, American Airlines needs to be sued to force changes internally that allow any employee to discriminate. In the meantime, the public needs to be made aware and then allowed to decide if they want to give a company like this their business. I certainly will not choose American Airlines again.

  104. I sit hear apalled and speechless at the disgraceful events and treatment of this man. I am disgusted at the lack of humanity and empathy. I will ever again fly via American Airlines and I submit that we all boycott until this situation is resolved with abject apologies and proper compensation. Regulations should stipulate proper concern and treatment of all passengers regardless of special needs. My regret is that names of abusers were not published as these individuals, starting with the captain, should be equally humiliated and disciplined. Fines should be imposed for violating regs that are stated in the law to protect people.

  105. Wow. I am so sorry you had to go through that Mark! I will never fly on American Airlines again.

  106. Sir, I am shocked and saddened to read your story. You’ve got one hell of a lot more patience than I would have displayed. Please tell me that this story has a happy ending. It seems to me if you fly a lot and it sounds like you do, then how on Earth this day your bumped off the plane. Surly showing your American Advantage card would have shown this arrogant Captain, that you’ve flown a lot on American before. Please accept my apologies on behalf of US Air aka American Airlines.

  107. I am truly horrified at your comments but I am definitely not surprised. Since the US air merger their attitude towards customers is so radically different that despite my nearly 100 flights per year I will never fly them again even when they are the lowest airfare. I would ask for a formal governmental investigation and I would take them off your list of airlines forever as I have.

  108. So shocked and angry at this pilot or corporation that think they are so important and have all this power. I am so sorry for this man, especially knowing what this type of thing can feel like, being currently disabled myself. II vow that unless their is a life-threatening situation in which I need to fly and they were the only ones with seats, I will never fly AA again. I’d like to see whoever made this illegal and unethical decision to be forced in front of all his colleagues to sit in a wheelchair, get a feel for it, and apologize to this man in front of everyone! Disgusting!

  109. So sorry this happened to you. I also have had issues with AA not dealing with disability well despite me making multiple calls beforehand to make sure I had everything I needed. When I confronted them, someone had apparently made notes saying they provided assistance I never received and claimed they did nothing wrong. This is terrible what happened to you and I hope you heal from this experience.

  110. Last July I flew for the first time since being disabled by spinal injuries. I can walk, but not very far due to chronic pain. Southwest Airlines was supposed to have a wheelchair to take me through the airport, but didn’t. I wear a back brace and am limited as to how much weight I can carry. I have a loose, LIGHT cotton vest with pockets and decide to wear that over my back brace so I wouldn’t need a purse. My laptop computer was already heavier than I’m supposed to lift.

    I put my meds in a ziploc ,and my wallet, in the vest pockets. Again, this is very light material and leaves visible lines and bumps for whatever’s inside. I got to the gate, put my laptop in a bin, my sandals in a bin, and my wallet and meds. I started to walk through the scanner, but a guard shouted at me: “Hey! You! Empty your pockets!” I said I had done that and pointed to my bins. He yelled louder, “You! I said, empty your pockets. You were told to EMPTY YOUR POCKETS. That sign says to EMPTY YOUR POCKETS.” I repeated that they were already empty, and pulled them inside out to show him. He yelled, “Well, take that off. It has too many pockets on it.” Okay, obviously dumb, but I took the vest off and added it to the bin with my sandals.

    I walk through the scanner. Nothing beeps. I move for my bins, but a woman JUMPS in front of me and holds out her arms to bar me. Without speaking to me, she runs her hands all over me and sticks her hand all the way down into the crotch of my jeans and runs it completely around me. Still without speaking to me, she began to tug at the straps of my back brace. I asked her what she was doing. She said, “oh, will it hurt you when I take this off” She wasn’t going to ask….she was just going to do it! I unfastened the velcro straps and remove my back brace and start to show her that it has no metal parts, but she jerks it out of my hands and TOSSES it back through the scanner onto the X-ray belt. It goes through and nothing beeps. The TSA woman grabs my back brace off the belt, throws it into the bin and walks off. Now I have four bins, and people behind me are starting to complain.

    I put on my sandals and vest, put my ziploc bag and wallet back into those excessive pockets, as I watch people with book bags and purses and wearing long coats go through without being accosted and subjected to the kind of search I was. I was treated very courteously at my connecting flight and on my return trip. I wasn’t even stopped.

    I believe I was singled out because of my back brace. I wrote a letter to the airport and received a response saying they aren’t responsible for anything the TSA does. I submitted a complaint to the TSA, but never received a reply.

  111. I feel you have a major law suit here and I employ you to do so and follow through. The airlines is taking it to extremes in the past years and also thinking of other ways to exploit and chaxhing off its passengers. We ourselves have had a run with American Airlines this weekend, where for 24 hours they flew my husband all over and he never arrived at his destination. They set up passengers to miss flights because they over booked and do this quite freaquently; then you lose your ticket and may never get to where you had originally paid for. When we called about their mishap, an eager employee was more than ready to help us, as we said we just need a flight to the destination as this mishap has caused stress and the loss of thousands of dollars. Soon thereafter, she said hold on let me double check if I can do this, and came back saying nope you have to wait 10 weeks for your reimbursement! Then proceeding to yawn and laugh at us and then continual silence on the phone as she went from helpful to derogatory. As of today we decided to cancel our membership with AA advantage program as that’s a hoax as well and look for an attorney as we believe this was biased.
    Hence, more regulatory standards must be in place for airlines, or as we see it no one is as good as Virgin Airlines!

  112. I feel speechless, horrified, frustrated, and extremely disappointed. Is that what this world is coming to? Is that what America is coming to? Good for you for staying so strong through the situation and making us all aware of it in such a mature way. You are the better man here and you are clearly stronger than anyone on that plane.

  113. I can not believe what I just read! What did you do? Was legal action taken? Nothing about that was right! NOTHING! I’m so sorry that happened to you. Only ONE SPOKE up? I have no words for humanity right now.

  114. I still am amazed at your story, Mark!! What has been the final chapter to this disaster? In over 4 million miles flown, I have had difficulties because of my chair, but never anything like this!!

    1. he hasn’t responded to the many questions about missing info such as what the reason they gave for removal, until we hear the whole story it is irresponsibleto being judgement against any party involved: i see people get upset every day over not getting what they want. sometimes the company is wrong, other times the customer is completely out of line, and sometimes it is no ones fault it just is. in all three versions of how it can happen the customer is almost always upset and in general these kinds of stories are written in those moments. Read the story and see the inconsistencies, the missing information, and the selective facts. I am not saying he wasn’t mistreated, but it is clear to me that he is choosing to keep some of the facts from the story. Only reason to do that is if you are making a case.

  115. There are follow-up stories that can be found via Google. I did not pursue legal action, as my interest was that no other with a disability experience what I did. Therefore, I pursued advocacy, working with congressional representatives on the Air Carrier Access Amendments Act of 2017, as well as DOT, where my formally-filed complaint was taken very seriously and contributed to a found pattern of discrimination by multiple airlines, resulting in fines. My terrible experience was what it was – that can’t be changed. However, hopefully through the exposure and subsequent advocacy efforts, equality for all airline passengers will be a bit more secure moving forward partly because of what I went through and how I properly addressed it.

    1. Hey Mark… interesting. I had shared your story on FB last year, and so of course it showed up in my ‘Memories’ today. I came to see what resolution, if any, had been affected. I’m really happy to see how you handled this. Well done!

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