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Portrait of Marca BristoMarca Bristo

Complaint Against American Airlines for Violation of the Air Carrier Access Act

I am a person who uses a motorized wheelchair as an assistive device to accommodate my disability.

This complaint is about my enplaning on American Airlines flight AA 2642 on March 25, 2019. I purchased in advance a round-trip ticket from American Airlines to travel from Chicago’s O’Hare Airport to Orange County’s John Wayne Airport and back. I informed American Airlines more than 48 hours before both legs of her journey that I needed assistance both enplaning and deplaning and that my condition required the use of the aisle chair to board and exit the aircraft.

On March 25, 2019, on my return trip to Chicago, I arrived at the gate for my flight at the John Wayne Airport long before the plane was ready to pre-board. I checked in with the gate crew and waited for their assistance. The gate crew called me to board the aircraft when I was in the restroom. Although I returned directly to the gate from the restroom, the gate crew had begun boarding the other passengers, denying me the opportunity to pre-board. The gate crew interrupted regular boarding to begin my boarding.

While passengers were waiting to board, the crew transferred me to the aisle chair. The crew then attempted to board me on the plane, but upon entering the plane, the crew learned that the airport aisle chair to which they had transferred me would not fit down the aisle of the plane.

The plane was a Boeing 5/18 revision of the 737-800. Its interior appears to have been remodeled to shrink the aisle width to the point that the airport’s standard sized aisle chair no longer could pass down the aisle. This clearly surprised the team assisting me with boarding. The members of the team remarked in my presence that they had never seen a situation like this before.

Eventually, the team abandoned the airport aisle chair. In the crowded galley surrounded by passengers waiting to board the plane, the crew transferred me into the in-flight aisle chair to enplane me. The crew did not provide me with any privacy from the other passengers during this transfer. While the crew was able to get me on this flight with that device, it does not appear to have been designed for and is not appropriate for enplaning or deplaning passengers.

The in-flight aisle chair is only intended for emergencies. In fact, the Boeing 737 that transported me does not even have an accessible restroom, making even that use irrelevant. The in-flight chair does not properly secure a passenger against slipping out of the device, or properly support the passenger in it.

The fact that the standard aisle chair does not fit on this Boeing 5/18 revision of the 737-800 is a design flaw. The design of the plane clearly fails to make boarding accessible to passengers with disabilities. Accordingly, I complain that the design violates the Air Carrier Access Act. 49 U.S.C. § 41705.

Marca Bristo, IL