A family traveling with a member who has autism spectrum disorder claims they were discriminated against before a Delta Connection flight operated by SkyWest Airlines.
Ayo Isola wrote on Facebook that his family returned to the US from a European trip last Friday. In their group was his brother who has autism spectrum disorder. “He is essentially nonverbal,” he explained, “making him unable to express himself oftentimes. He suffers from OCD, sensory overload, and many other symptoms that can make air travel particularly difficult for him. For his safety and the safety of those around him, it is important that he sit with a family member on flights.”
Prior to boarding their flight — SkyWest 3596 — from Detroit to Houston Intercontinental, they realized none of them had seats together.
A woman seated in an adjacent row was willing to switch seats so two Isola family members could sit together.
This, for some reason, irked a flight attendant, who allegedly demanded Mr. Isola’s brother move back to his original seat. “We explained to her that he has special needs and that this small accommodation would be necessary,” he said, “however she continued to raise hell about passengers switching seats.” Fellow passengers came to the Isola party’s defense.
Twenty minutes later, a supervisor boarded the plane and instructed the flight attendant to allow the seat swap. The supervisor explained to the FA that seat swaps aren’t uncommon on flights.
Oh, boy. If the flight attendant didn’t know — or want to admit — that, there’s no way this story ends happily.
And it sort of doesn’t.
The flight was now 45 minutes late. The flight attendant gets the pilots involved and purportedly claims the family is causing “a safety hazard.” One of the pilots decides everyone must deplane. That didn’t sit well with many people — including “airline management and airport security (who) got involved and told the pilot that there was no safety issue and that the plane should fly now.”
Mr. Isola said the pilot (I assume he’s referencing the captain) refused to operate the flight and then left the terminal, his crew following behind.
A new crew was needed to operate the flight, which departed about two and a half hours late.
“They refused to fly the plane because they were told to make a minor accommodation for a passenger with special needs. Im [sic] posting this story to highlight the ignorance, bigotry, and blatant discrimination that unfortunately exists in people today. It is not right to treat people with special needs as if they are unworthy of your time or effort.”
So What Was the “Safety Hazard”?
There are only two “safety” related concerns that cross my mind. (Again, I don’t know anything more than what Mr. Isola wrote.)
- Did the young man with autism end up in an exit row? If travel is challenging for him, helping out in the event of an emergency could be a concern. But if that were the case — and I don’t know where anyone was seated — it’d be pretty darn easy to find volunteers to go from standard coach seats to the exit row.
- Was the young man was (understandably) upset? That may have made the flight attendant uncomfortable.
The only other thing I can think of is if people moved cabins (i.e. First to Main or Comfort+ to Main Cabin, or some combination thereof)
What Does Delta Say?
So far, we haven’t seen any formal statement from Delta. Ironically (or maybe not) Delta released “Travel tips for customers with disabilities” this morning. The release included tips for those traveling with sensory sensitivities.
Yes, I know the flight was operated by SkyWest. But because this was a Delta Connection flight, the mothership must bear some responsibility here, too. Just like United has to face the music with that whole drunk-Air-Wisconsin-flight-attendant incident.
What Do You Think?
Please share your thoughts in the Comments section below?
H/T: Marni Rachmiel via Facebook
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