Southwest Airlines wouldn’t let disabled traveler Jon Morrow board after it determined his medically required lift was an “undue burden.”
“The difficulty would be transferring me safely and also with dignity,” he said. “In some ways, [manual transfers] is very dehumanizing.”
When the Austin-based writer flies, he faces the challenge of transferring from his wheelchair to a seat. His disability and brittle bones make him susceptible to injury. Flight crews can physically transfer people to their seats, but Morrow says this isn’t always the safest.
“I’m about 150 pounds, so I would need three to four people to lift me within the confines of the airplane. And I would risk injuring them and myself,” he said. “What bothers me is that better options do exist.”
Morrow advocates for the use of lifts like the Eagle, a device used by more than 100 airports around the world. He says he used an Eagle on a previous American Airlines flight, which was supplied by the fire department. He then bought his own Eagle for $15,000 to use for future travel — but he has trouble convincing Southwest to let him use one.
Despite the Austin airport having access to the Eagle lift, Southwest reps told Morrow before he bought the ticket the Eagle would cause “undue burden” to its board process. Morrow booked a ticket anyway and brought his own Eagle as well as two trained personnel and a doctor’s note confirming it was a medical necessity. He was ultimately denied entry.
“There’s nothing for them to lose,” said Morrow. “I had a backup flight an hour and a half later with JetBlue. JetBlue didn’t know anything about the Eagle. They let me go, and I was on board within 15 minutes.”