Larry Dodson at Vietnam Veterans Memorial on the National MallLarry Dodson

Broken Chair Again ~ Treated Like a Piece of Meat

On Thursday, August 03, 2017, my wife and I flew Delta from Albuquerque, NM to Atlanta, GA. I am a 70-year-old quadriplegic (in a wheelchair for 43 plus years) and we live in North Augusta, SC; we had driven to Atlanta on the initial flight to Albuquerque on July 29, 2017. My problems began on my return flight into Atlanta when my power wheelchair did not come up to the jetway even though it had been gate-checked in Albuquerque.

The ground crew had to unload my 350-pound chair from the cargo hold on the plane and take it up the elevator to get to the gate. My wife watched it being driven on the tarmac to the elevator but after 15 minutes, a person who we thought was the gate agent insisted that I get into an aisle chair from my plane seat even though the wheelchair was nowhere in sight. When I complained that this had happened on a previous Delta flight and I had to endure 45 minutes in that aisle chair that is little more than a hand truck, she said they would transfer me to one of the red transport chairs and use my own seat cushion. At first there were about 6 people helping but the gate agent argued with my wife, who knew it had been gate-checked, that my wheelchair had been taken to Ground Transportation and I would have to go there in order to find my chair. After 25 minutes, my wheelchair arrives just outside our jetway where other passengers are trying to board that same plane. The gate agent then decides that I should transfer into my wheelchair in front of those passengers (I have to be lifted by others, I cannot make the transfer by myself), I told her that my privacy was involved here and what she was asking me to do was not compliant. All Delta employees scattered at that point and the gate agent went to get her supervisor.

The supervisor was a young man who insisted that a compliance officer had to be called. All this time I am setting in the transport chair and I am in pain and cannot balance. He leaves again and I am moved to two other locations by the gate agent for “privacy.” My wife is struggling to keep up with our carry-ons as well as our personal items including a backpack with wheelchair parts. After thirty minutes, the supervisor comes back and he, the gate agent and my wife transfer me to my own chair. It was then we saw that the wheelchair cowling was split and broken in a jagged line. The back of the chair that was sculpted just for me was uneven and lumpy as well as filthy and loose from the frame. I told the gate agent that I needed to get my luggage and file a claim for the damage. She said she would be happy to help us because she felt so badly about what had happened. Her badge said Customer Service and I thought follow-through was her job.

The gate agent rode the train with us and my wife got our luggage and put it on a $5 cart from Baggage Claim; next stop was to another Delta employee, who took our incident report and assured us that a compliance officer would be contacting us about the ADA issue. The gate agent then showed us the way to the parking lot yelling as we passed through the main Atlanta terminal, “ Lookout! Make way, Make way, electric wheelchair coming through.” People were gawking like we were a circus act. I told her we had it from there but when she realized we had gone to the North Parking instead of South, she insisted on showing us the way back to that area.

When we saw our car, we thanked her and said goodbye, but she followed us anyway. She told us she would appreciate something to eat from a bag of goodies that was on top of our bags. She then suggested that she would appreciate anything else we would like to give her. As my wife was loading the suitcases and me in the van, the gate agent said “Aren’t you going to tip me for all I did for you?” My wife simply said “No.” The gate agent left in a huff, mumbling to herself.

Awkward, Embarrassing, Exhausting– all adjectives to describe this incident.

Mr. Larry Dodson, SC