On July 20th, Julianna’s (delayed) Delta flight landed in Atlanta at 7:30pm, with a connecting flight scheduled for 8:05pm. Julianna, who has muscular dystrophy, missed the connecting flight because nobody came with a wheelchair until 8:05—the same time the connecting flight took off. To make matters worse, the plane crew told Julianna she might make the flight anyway if she stopped waiting for help and got off the plane right now, so she crawled down the stairs on her own. When the wheelchair came she was “wheeled into a back room and advised” that her plane had taken off. But that was just the first half of her ordeal, and the next eight hours only got worse.
The rest of the Consumerist post contains Julianna’s letter to Delta, describing what she went through for the next several hours, including: the continued struggle to find someone to help her travel to her new gate, pleading with the employee pushing her to allow her to have a bathroom break, and being unable to obtain water or food for hours, because no one would help her and she was unable to transport herself with the manual wheelchair provided by the airline. When she finally arrived at her destination airport at 3:15AM, she again had to crawl onto the shuttle service in order to get home.
Though most of the people commenting over at the Consumerist are decent people calling this out for the travesty it is, of course a few assholes had to bound on in with their privilege and demand answers from Julianna. Why didn’t she wheel herself to go get some food and water? (Clearly, because she’s a lazy bum who could have transported herself, but sat there stubbornly in hunger and dehydration simply so that she could write an angry letter later! What, you don’t do completely ridiculous and unbelievable stuff like that all the time???) Why didn’t she have her own wheelchair? (It’s not like airlines make you use those collapsible ones that fit on the plane and store motorized wheelchairs in cargo — she must have magically arrived at the airport without one!) Why didn’t she complain more loudly?! That’s the real problem here!
Or they want to argue about whose fault it really is. It’s not the airline’s fault, this is about the specific employees! It’s not the employees’ fault, it’s the airline’s fault because it wasn’t those employees’ job! It’s neither of their fault, it was the airport because they employ the people who didn’t show up! Obviously, this is the most productive conversation that one could be having.
How about instead, if everything above is true: it’s all of their fault. It’s the airport’s fault for having employees who don’t show up and do their job. It’s the Delta employees’ fault for being shitty excuses for human beings. It’s the airline’s fault for not expecting employees to treat each and every passenger, including those with disabilities, as people with dignity rather than an inconvenience. How about it doesn’t really matter who is the most to blame, because the bottom line is that no person should be treated this way? No one should have to crawl off an airplane while annoyed employees — and other bystanders — do nothing to help, no one should have to beg to simply use the restroom, and no one should be stranded without food and water only to be blamed for it later by some ignorant ass.
And I personally think it’s wrong to act as though a single person or entity is entirely responsible. Of course Delta and these employees deserve our outrage, and lots of it, including demands for action. But clearly we as a society still don’t presume that people with disabilities have the same right as the rest of us to use public spaces. It’s still perceived that they’re the ones with entitlement complexes, rather than the able-bodied people who feel they shouldn’t be troubled by the presence of those who are different from them. And this kind of cruel and scornful behavior is a natural consequence of those attitudes.
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