Jon Morrow, 36, is both a blogger and a public speaker hailing from Austin, Texas.
Morrow was born with Spinal Muscular Atrpohy — a genetic disorder that limits his ability to move. And since the age of 4, Morrow has used a wheelchair but his progressive condition has now left him motionless aside from facial movement.
Morrow is able to steer his wheelchair with a special tube that utilizes the pressure of his breath.
Morrow travels the country giving presentations on blogging, accompanied by personal caregivers whom he pays out of pocket.
On his doctor’s recommendation, Morrow invested in a $15,000 device called an Eagle Lift by the Australian company, Haycomp.
This device allows him to smoothly transfer him from his wheelchair to an airline seat, and then is stored under the plane.
Morrow’s handlers are both trained as well as licensed to use the device — all he needs is approval to bring it onboard.
But before he booked a Florida flight where he was scheduled to give a keynote speech, he was understandably nervous.
“I knew there was a high likelihood I would battle with Southwest because they’ve said no before,” Morrow shared with Yahoo Lifestyle.
In the previous year on a trip to San Diego to speak to a 7,000 person crowd, Southwest denied the device.
And while Morrow was able to switch to American Airlines, Morrow was originally able to have his care team fly free-of-charge due to Southwest’s credit card perk.
Morrow notated the device by a “Special assistance” online link and waited for a response.
Then, a few days later on Twitter, he followed up.
It was there a customer service agent responded to his query, saying he would be able to use his device.
But soon after, Morrow received yet another message from a different representative saying that he could not use his Eagle Lift.
Airlines cannot refuse people with disabilities, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation Air Carrier Access Act, except for passengers who are “inimical to the safety of the flight.”
According to chat transcripts, Morrow was informed that, per the Code of Federal Regulations, airlines “are not required to make modifications that would constitute an undue burden or would fundamentally alter your program” or would disrupt the boarding processes.
And while there was not enough time for Morrow to use and stow the device, the airline staff (who are not medically trained) would assist him, according to a rep.
“Makes me sad to say this, but Southwest Airlines is officially discriminating against severely disabled passengers in wheelchairs. They don’t say you can’t fly. That would be blatantly illegal. Instead, they make it impossible for you to safely board the plane…” Morrow posted to Facebook.
“…Mind you, this is a device that is standard operating procedure for all passengers in wheelchairs outside the US,” wrote Morrow. “It’s been used safely on thousands of flights. I’m also providing the Eagle and trained personnel at MY expense. Still they refuse. They dig in their heels. They tell me the decision cannot be appealed further. So, here I am, appealing to Facebook. Not only for myself, but for everyone else who needs this device. People who cannot transfer themselves should not be manhandled by firefighters. They should be able to use a device built and tested for that exact purpose, recognized worldwide for its safety and efficiency. I’m making it as easy as I can for them. But they won’t do it the easy way. So let’s do it the hard way. People in wheelchairs should be able to fly. Let’s take this one small step toward making it happen and approve my flight.”
An airline spokesperson revealed to Yahoo Lifestyle the following:
“Southwest Airlines takes pride in making air travel accessible to customers who require assistance when flying with us and is committed to full compliance with the regulations under the Air Carrier Access Act. In this instance, the customer was informed that we do not have boarding procedures for the safe use of the device nor do our employees have training for storage of the device. This final decision was made after reviewing the device’s specifications and the requirements for transporting it and the Customer safely. However, we have been in contact with the manufacturer of this device to learn more about it. We remain committed to extending our legendary Southwest Hospitality to every Customer who chooses to fly with us, and we take great measures to comply with all federal accessibility requirements.”
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