A Serious Question on the Matter of Airline Passenger Safety

On my flight home today, ELEVEN people needed wheelchair assist onto the plane. All senior citizens, some more mobile than others, but all boarded the plane first, as is the norm.

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I was in seat 2A, window and when my row was called to board, I got to my seat to find the middle and aisle seat were already occupied by two of the eleven coming aboard the plane needing assistance. Husband and wife, probably my age but looking far far older, the wife trembled with Parkinson’s, the husband unable to stand on his own without being pulled up and out of his seat and needing a cane to walk even a few feet. His hands were fetched up closed, maybe from arthritis or whatever disease riddled his body.

I could see that getting across the two of them to my window seat was going to be a tough task. I needed a moment to figure out what to do and stepped back to Row 3, an empty aisle seat to think a second. There was a woman right behind me who said snippily, that’s my seat. As I tried discretely to explain my problem, she barked at me You better move it fast. Honest to God, I wanted to deck her, she was so rude but I maintained my composure and gave her my best stinky eye. She didn’t care a hoot.

Meanwhile, the wife in the middle seat could see my problem and said she would help her husband up so I could get through. It was awkward for them, and for me. Once I was in, the wife said, I hope you won’t have to go to the bathroom! She added that she was kidding, but I knew what she said was the way it would be and I was glad the flight was only two and a half hours.

I got to talking to them, learned what disease he has, learned that he was a Vietnam vet too, and assured them I was good to stay put until we landed. They were a fine older couple and she was a good good wife making sure her husband was comfortable.

BUT, here’s what kept crossing my mind as we flew north. What if the plane had an emergency and we had to evacuate? No WAY the man in the aisle seat could rush to get out, even go slowly to get out, the wife was only marginally more mobile, so I figured I’d go down with the pilot. It was disconcerting to be thinking about this the whole way home but the more I thought about it, the more I wondered if airlines have safety guidelines? When this couple made their reservations, they must have had to declare they were unable to walk on their own. Or maybe not???? I don’t think I remember any instance in making a reservation online that asked me if I was incapacitated in any physical way.

Nonetheless, I was virtually trapped, most uncomfortable that I had been put where I might not be able to exit without climbing over the old couple. Had I died, I think my family would have the right to sue, saying my seat was a death trap and I should NOT have been assigned a seat that would require me to climb over two people who couldn’t get out themselves.

Thankfully, the plane landed without any issue. The wife leaned over to me and said you know, they take us who need a wheelchair to get off the plane out last. I told her I knew that, not to worry, I was in no hurry, I was home, had no luggage to gather, my car was in the garage and I was fifteen minutes from home. I would gladly wait until they got off.

The husband heard me and I guess it bothered him that he was causing me some problem (his thought, not mine) and he told his wife he was getting up and would walk with his cane off the plane into the jetbridge. But he couldn’t get up without help and a young man behind him offered to lift him. I said to the wife that she could go with him and I’d carry off his backpack and her small bag under her seat and follow them out. I did, noticing simultaneously that the woman in Seat 3C, the bitch, was already first in line to get off the plane, butting up in front of everyone else. I wanted to trip her, but I didn’t.

ANYWAY, I help the two off the plane (with ZERO caring or concern by the two awful awful flight attendants), the couple get in matching wheelchairs, she thanks me, I tell them I enjoyed meeting them and chatting with her, I started to the garage when I realized, damn, in all that frenzy, I left my carry-on in the overhead compartment!! One of the wheelchair attendants got it for me, easily since I was only in row 2.

I’m home, still thinking about what obligation an airline has to make sure its passengers all have access in case of emergency. There must be something in writing, no????

That awful thought-cloud disappeared quickly when I began to listen to the four messages on the home phone, one of which was from Citibank fraud alert, asking me if I used my MasterCard today to shop at Target in West Covina, California. Nope. The card was declined by Target, my MC account now closed, a new card will come tomorrow, but someone got my information and made a fake card with my name on it. Creepy.

I’d walk on the Florida beach to clear my head but I’m looking out my window and only see trees with no leaves and no beach. Drat.

15 thoughts on “A Serious Question on the Matter of Airline Passenger Safety

    1. In a perfect world, that would have been the easiest and smartest choice. BUT, I had a flood of people behind me, the mean lady in 3C barking, I had put my bag in the overhead and was committed. The flight attendants were two of the worst I’ve ever encountered, cold, aloof, and oblivious. No one offered to help me find another seat and I couldn’t just sit down somewhere.

  1. I have come to dread flying. Way too many people like the bitch on your flight who just had to shove her way to front of the exit line. Never mind that no man will offer to help get an older woman’s (mine) carry on into or out of the overhead. And then we have the fatsos who smoosh out of their seat space right into yours so you have to sit there all hunched up so as not to make contact. Yuk!!!

      1. Deal! We’ll split the cost 50/50 when my ship comes in. I want all the people I can’t stand to see me getting on & off that private jet.

  2. At what point are there too many wheelchair assist passengers on one flight? Eleven is a large percentage of your plane and if flight attendants are charged with getting everyone off the plane safely in an emergency, how can they deal with so many in varying degrees of immobility?

    I agree with the first commenter – you should have moved your seat before sitting down but I understand the circumstances that prevented it. Nonetheless, kudos for helping the couple. That’s laudable.

  3. This story is getting all too familiar. I’ve been on more than one flight to SFO where I’ve been next to a handicapped traveler.

    In your case it’s 100% the job of the flight attendant to notice your seat is inaccessible and they should have known that before you had to make them move.

    I agree that your life was compromised had the plane needed to evacuate. Glad you are home and had a good time in Florida. Another week for me in California.

  4. This post and subsequent thread have made me think about airline wheelchair passengers in ways that hadn’t crossed my mind before.

    My previous two bits of knowledge were

    1) the base $ pay of airport wheelchair attendants is based on the assumption they will be tipped by their customers. Who knew? Not me, until I read it (in WSJ, I think). I wonder if the wheelchair passengers themselves know? Or care? Or can afford? I think I will henceforth make it a point to fleetingly hand out a $20 to every wheelchair attendant I happen to see in our LR airport. We only have one terminal, so this won’t break the bank. Plus small unexpected cash-in-hand gifts are great fun to give. Plus while they don’t change anyone’s life, obviously, they can give a useful boost to people’s faith in human nature.

    2) if someone’s in a wheelchair, their entire party gets the preferential security line treatment. Not just one or two helpers (reasonable enough), but the entire, you know, Duggar clan. Including the perv. Don’t get me started.

    I never thought about emergency landing safety implications for the wheelchair-dependent OR their randomly-assigned seat mates (that would be you). There’s an article in here. Write it!

    1. Your tipping plan is brilliant and I did not know that those employees live off tips. My instinct is with such a huge population of seniors in Florida, airports in and around the state are prepared for the massive need for wheelchair attendants. Every wheelchair assisted senior who got on my plane looked well-heeled and savvy enough to give a big tip, although I didn’t see it take place.

      When we landed at HPN, the same cold flight attendant told the jetbridge crew, in a very loud and almost bitter tone, “we have ELEVEN needing wheelchairs”..I’d have fired her on the spot. The jetbridge man said back “okay, but we only have one pusher” which got me to wonder if that was a union category? Something that requires special training?

      I knew that wheelchair travelers go through a separate line for security and I remember one trip we took outside the USA when the line we picked to go through security was right next to the wheelchair line and we got hung up for almost an hour because as more and more wheelchairs came through, they got to go to the front of the line. Finally, in our best New York attitude voice, we said, heck with the gimps, let US go next. (kidding/not kidding)

      I tweeted JetBlue about this incident (generically, not giving them specifics) and their response is that the flight crew is trained to evacuate everyone safely. Of course that’s their response, but in reality, I’d have been a goner, unable to get out. I won’t let it happen to me again, that’s for sure.

      I’ll probably write jetBlue, not asking for any money or anything, but asking for clarification about seat assignment procedures etc. It was unnerving to say the least, and I am NOT a nervous flier.

  5. Yow! What an awful tale. This (and germs!) is exactly why I drive while the Netjet is still on the inspiration board!

    RLRR — you may have restored my faith in humanity a bit. I love your idea!💖

    1. Driving sure is easier these days – especially considering how many hours ahead of the flight one has to be at the airport, flight delays, nasty passengers, no food, rude flight attendants, etc etc….the practicality of course, two+ hours non stop to Florida. Gotta suck up and deal for that versus two days of driving on I-95!

  6. Row 2, isn’t that considered a More Space seat on JetBlue? You paid MORE to be at the window next to two seniors with disabilities? I’d ask for my money back, especially the More Space premium.

    I agree with others who say you should have not sat down in the first place, asked for a seat reassignment. That’s in hindsight.

    1. Hindsight, yes. You are right, I should not have sat down. And yes, I did pay a premium for a MoreSpace seat. Going down it was a smaller plane, two across, an Embraer 190 I think. Coming up, it was a three seat across configuration, a much bigger plane. When I clicked my seat choice when booking the ticket, seat 2A was one of two and when I got on board and saw it was one of three, hmmmmmm, I would not have selected the more space option window seat in a row of three, never. I would have taken a regular seat on the aisle, far back was fine too.

      It’s really not about the money so I won’t ask for any compensation. But I would like to know if there is a limit to the number of handicapped travelers per plane, why my seat wasn’t red flagged to move me before I boarded (I wouldn’t have balked knowing the circumstances).

  7. Post a comment in either The Points Guy or Peter Greenberg’s blogs. Both r travel gurus who might know the answer to “how many handicapped people are too many”?

    Your situation was unnerving.

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