It’s the year 2013. We have access to so many advancements in technology, transportation and information. We live in an era privy to some of the best civil rights laws and equality statutes in recorded history. You would imagine at this stage in the game that someone in a wheelchair, unable to walk would not be discriminated against, especially by a major global corporation. No, that would be outrageous! Well, I guess not everyone is on the same page – as apparently Delta airlines forced a disabled man to crawl from the airplane twice last year, to get to his wheelchair, offering no assistance.
That’s right, Delta airlines, one of the most prominent airlines in the world, a multi-billion dollar corporation mind you, would not lift a finger to help Dr. Baraka Kanaan, who was injured in a car accident in 2000 -left unable to walk, disembark the airplane on both legs of his flight. Instead, they gracefully placed cardboard along the exit route between crowded seats and watched him crawl arm over arm in his nice suit, on the way to a spinal operation, off the airplane peopled with on-lookers. Those who observed the scene felt their hands were tied, apparently, wishing not to get involved in any potential ‘lawsuit.’ I’m still confused about that one – no one reached out to help a fellow human in need? What happened to the good Samaritan? Kanaan states:
I was forced by Delta Airlines, just days before having a spinal fusion surgery, I was forced to crawl from my chair, through the cabin of the plane, down a flight of stairs with no backing or sides and across the tarmac to get to my wheelchair. Here we are in the modern day and people who are able bodied were standing around with their arms crossed watching me crawl under the guise that they could not touch me lest they be liable.
Dr. Kanaan had contacted Delta weeks in advance to let them know of his condition and need for assistance on both ends of the flight and was assured he would receive such help. But he was sadly misinformed. After flying from his home in Maui all the way to Massachusetts, a long flight for anyone, Baraka was met with not only unhelpful hands, but downright uncivil treatment. “They gave me an ultimatum. You can find a way off this plane on your own, or you can go back to Maui where you live.”
After contacting the airlines to register a complaint, Delta kindly offered him 40,000 bonus sky miles and a $100 voucher saying “Respectfully, additional consideration would not be due.” Dr. Kanaan has since discovered that Delta has received over 5000 complaints of abuse since 2011. His incident took place in July of 2012, one whole year ago, and this issue has still not been resolved. Baraka Kanaan announced on Facebook:
This has to stop. The question is, what’s the incentive to get Delta to stop? Well, my request is that you would call Delta headquarters… call them, complain that this stuff is happening. Complain. Call your representatives. Call somebody. Make it known that Delta cannot get away by treating disabled people this way. Because otherwise, they’re not going to do anything.
Here is a heartfelt letter written by Dr. Kanaan on this incident:
My name is Baraka Kanaan, and in July, 2012, I was subjected to horrifying and dehumanizing treatment at the hand of Delta Airlines. Because of an accident, & the subsequent continuing degenerative disc disease in my spine, I am required to use a wheelchair to get around. On two occasions a few days apart, I was forced to crawl through Delta’s aircraft, up and down the stairs of its airplane, and across the tarmac to retrieve my wheelchair because they were unwilling or unable to get access to the federally-required aisle wheelchair and the lift to raise and lower me from the plane. I didn’t seek out this experience, nor do I wish to be the poster child for the mistreated, but someone has to take a stand (as it were) against this outrageous behavior, we need a civility rights movement in our nation. Delta not only harmed my physical body, but the humiliation and utter embarrassment of having to crawl twice for no reason other than their neglect has also left my emotions deeply scarred.
No one, able bodied or not, should have to endure such abuse. If the abuse was limited to only those two incidents, it would still be a travesty, however I’ve spent the last year being literally led in circles by Delta’s corporate leadership, I’ve been talked down to in phone conversations, and the way they’ve handled my case is to simply push it off until hopefully it goes away or people lose interest.
This multi-billion dollar entity has every resource at their disposal; why didn’t they have the proper safety equipment on two separate occasions even though they had received more than ample advanced warning that I would need it? Why did this very profitable organization (who is required by law to help the disabled) fail to offer me even a helping hand out of and back into the plane? What will it take for this behavior on Delta’s part to stop, and when will they chose to do what is right? Not only by me, but by the thousands like me who have no recourse when Delta runs amuck and simply neglects their duty to the public, and especially to those with disabilities. It is shameful to allow corporate bullies cart blanche; this civil rights violation needs to be corrected and compensation to the victims should be compulsory and forthcoming. I’m asking all those who would stand with us to boycott Delta until they make a gesture of good will that goes beyond simply empty words on a page
Those flying with disabilities should be granted protection under the Air Carrier Access Act, which requires Airports and carriers of 31 or more passengers to “provide boarding assistance to individuals with disabilities by using ramps, mechanical lifts, or other suitable devices where level-entry boarding by loading bridge or mobile lounge is not available.” Delta followed no such guidelines.
Kanaan’s lawyers have since made a press release stating:
In the period from April to June of 2012, the quarter directly preceding Mr. Kanaan’s ordeal, Delta took in $231 million in revenue nationally from baggage fees alone, more than any other American airline. Nonetheless, Delta apparently could not provide Mr. Kanaan an aisle wheelchair or a suitable lift to lower him from the plane even though he had repeatedly warned Delta that he would be flying and required that assistance. Delta recorded $36.6 billion in revenue in 2012, and recorded a
profit of $1.009 billion. Their 2012 profits represented an 18.1 percent increase on 2011 profits. They have assets in excess of $44 billion dollars. Since, 2011, Delta has been fined more than $2,000,000 by the DOT for its treatment of disabled passengers. Although significant given that the maximum fine that the DOT can issue per incident under the ACAA is $20,000, $2,000,000 represents less than 0.2% of their 2012 profits.
Dr. Baraka Kanaan is a prominent member of his community as a lyrical poet and musician and has many connections and friends through which he hopes to spread the word of Delta’s misdeed, including reaching out to the general public in this way. Hopefully, this incident will shape the way this airline and other corporations conduct their future operations in dealing with those with disabilities. As humiliating as it must have been for one disabled man to crawl from a Delta Airlines airplane, the real humiliation should be with Delta for standing back and watching it happen, and then continuing to ignore that they did anything truly in error. Let this be a voice for change. Contact Delta today and let them know you disapprove, when we come together as one voice – we can make a change.
To make a complaint to Delta Airlines, you can call right now: 1-404-773-0305 or call Delta’s Disability Assistance phone number, which is 1-404-209-3434.
To read the reply letter sent to Dr. Kanaan by Delta, see below.
Written by: Stasia Bliss
Reply Letter from Delta:
Re: CC-Customer Care-Complaint-Inflight ACK (KMM17178745V15759L0KM)
FROM: ContactUs.Delta@delta.com Dear Mr. Kanaan, RE: Case Number 6859319 Thank you for your follow up communication to the phone call our Disability Assistance team received on August 7, 2012. On behalf of Delta Air Lines and our Delta Connection Carrier – Pinnacle Airlines, I apologize if you did not receive our response to your concerns from September 5, 2012 regarding the irregular flight operations and disability assistance provided while traveling on July 27, 2012 from New York-John F. Kennedy International Airport to Nantucket on Flight 4110, operated by Pinnacle Airlines, and returning on July 29, 2012 from Nantucket to New York-John F. Kennedy International Airport on Flight 4110, operated by Pinnacle Airlines. To begin, I am truly sorry for the inconvenience you were caused when Flight 4245, operated by Pinnacle Airlines, was cancelled on July 26, 2012 for weather-related conditions.
We know travelers need an airline they can count on, and I recognize how upsetting it is when plans are disrupted. That said, I was dismayed to know that you were rescheduled for travel the next day when your flight was cancelled. Equally, it was disheartening to know that your return was affected by irregular flight operations when Flight 4245, operated by Pinnacle Airlines, was again cancelled when the aircraft was unavailable due to weather conditions. While no airline can guarantee that air travel will be free of disruptions, we are working very hard to provide our customers with the dependable, timely air transportation they expect and deserve. We recognize even one flight disruption can have far reaching consequences to our customers. That said, it is important that we utilize our customers’ comments in order to improve our operations and our overall customer service experience. Further, we appreciate the time you took to share your experience when you needed assistance enplaning/deplaning the aircraft during your trip, and did not receive the assistance required. As you mentioned to our phone agent, there was no lift available in Nantucket to get on or off the aircraft, and the stairs were also too narrow to have someone assist with carrying you up the stairs. After learning that your only option was to crawl up the stairs in order to make it to your speaking engagement on time, I certainly understand why you wanted to bring this matter to our attention. I can only imagine how upsetting it was when you called prior to your return flight to ensure you would not have a similar experience, only to encounter the same difficulties with boarding the plane in Nantucket during your return trip. Please know we want to make travel a convenient and trouble-free experience for all our passengers with special needs.
Surely, if a customer requires enplaning/deplaning assistance, we want to provide them this help in a timely and caring manner. As such, I have taken a moment to carefully review the details of your trip and your Electronic Ticket Record (ETR), 0062145659743. Allow me to explain my findings. According to your ETR, we received an advance request indicating you required enplaning/deplaning assistance. Also, we received an advance wheelchair request indicating you required assistance to, from, and between gates and assistance to your seat on the aircraft using an aisle chair. Please know these advance requests should have alerted our teams at the airport and onboard your flights to the type of assistance you required. With the details in your letter and the information received, my research shows we do not have sufficient information to determine whether a violation of 14CFR, Part 382 has occurred for both your outbound and return trips in Nantucket. Truly, I apologize for any distress or discomfort caused when it was necessary to board/disembark in Nantucket by crawling up and down the plane’s stairs. Nevertheless, I want to assure you that Delta Air Lines and our Delta Connection Carriers are committed to providing assistance to all passengers with special needs. I have shared a copy of your communication with our Airport Customer Service and In-flight leadership teams so they can review our procedures and initiate appropriate internal processes to prevent a recurrence of the event you outlined. We appreciate the opportunity to resolve this matter directly and address your concerns. You may, should you wish to do so, contact the U.S. Department of Transportation about this matter. For future reference, if you experience a challenge while traveling with us or the assistance you requested is not provided, we encourage you to ask for a Complaint Resolution Official (CRO). A CRO is available at all times of airport operation either in person or by telephone. CRO’s are specially trained to handle issues related to our passengers with disabilities. We want to ensure we are providing the very best service possible when special assistance is required.
As you know, the team at our Disability Assistance Line, 404-209-3434, is also available to assist you with any special requests prior to, during, or after completion of your travel. I encourage you to make a note of this number which is available exclusively for our passengers with special needs. However, I was saddened to know that the service provided by our agent from the Disability Assistance Line was unsatisfactory when you were offered a first class ticket, only to call back and receive a different offer as a gesture of apology for the poor service you received while traveling. As our customer, you are in the best position to point out areas that need attention. Our goal is to provide consistent and accurate information to our passengers at all times and I am deeply sorry that in this instance you did not receive the service you expected and should have received when you were given conflicting information from our team members. Mr. Kanaan, your continued support as a SkyMiles member is essential and I know we will work hard to provide future service that restores your confidence. At this time, our records show that a total of 40,000 bonus SkyMiles and a $100 credit voucher have been issued as a gesture of goodwill for the lack of caring assistance provided in Nantucket and also for the flight disruptions you encountered. Respectfully, additional consideration would not be due. I am sorry to disappoint you, as I know this is not the answer you were expecting. I hope I have been able to address any concerns you have about our flight handling, disability assistance, and overall service. Your business is important to us and given the opportunity of serving you in the future, I am confident Delta will not only meet but exceed your expectations.
Sincerely, Megan Buchanan
Delta Air Lines