D’Arcee Neal, a disabled passenger on board a United Airlines flight, was forced to crawl down the aisle of the plane, which had landed at Washington’s Dulles International Airport. Neal, a 29-year-old man who suffers from cerebral palsy, was on a five-hour flight from San Francisco. Ironically, Neal was returning from a business trip where he was discussing disabled accessibility policies with a car rental company.
Reports CNN on October 25: “A man returning from a meeting about disabled accessibility policies arrived home with his own personal example of the problem.”
Neal was unable to use the restroom on the flight because his wheelchair would not fit down the plane’s norrow, middle aisle. After the passengers disembarked, Neal was waiting for a specialized “aisle chair” – a wheelchair engineered to fit between seats – but it never came.
After repeated requests fell on deaf ears, Neal couldn’t hold it any longer. He took to the floor and crawled half the length of the plane to the jetway – all the while being gawked at by the flight crew who did nothing. When he reached the exit, his regular chair was just sitting there. Even then, Neal said no one assisted him.
“I expected them to ask to assist me, but they just stared,” the federal employee said. “I was trying to get them to understand that this is why I don’t want to wait another 15 to 20 minutes,” Neal said.
According to MSN News, Neal works as a “disability advocate for the federal government. He was traveling back from San Francisco where he met with Uber to discuss its policies regarding disability access.”
D’Arcee Neal never reported the incident; a flight attendant, who according to CNN later “felt guilty” for not assisting Neal, reported what had happened to United Airline officials. In response, United contacted Neal and apologized, and informed him that the manager on duty was suspended. They offered Neal a $300 credit.
A United Spokesperson blamed not having the specialized wheelchair ready for Neal on a mix-up.
“As customers began to exit the aircraft, we made a mistake and told the agent with the aisle chair that it was no longer needed, and it was removed from the area,” the airline said in a statement. “When we realized our error – that Mr. Neal was onboard and needed the aisle chair – we arranged to have it brought back, but it arrived too late.”
As to why Neal never said anything? “I didn’t contact United at all, because I honestly didn’t believe they cared,” he said, later adding that he was “shocked” he even got a reply from the company. Perhaps the fact the stoy went viral pushed United to make a response.
“Quite frankly, I was just shocked, because this had happened a couple of times before (with various airlines), and no company had ever bothered to apologize when they’ve done something wrong… I just hope they learn from this,” D’Arcee Neal said.