Last Sunday, February 13, I was flying from LAX to Dulles on United Airlines. Because I travel with a service dog I have to check in at the ticket counter to show identification of the dog. While waiting in line, the next available ticket lady took one look at me with my dog Charlie and said "Ma'am who is standing behind you?" I had no idea who they were, but she said "I will help you next" speaking to the people behind me. Obviously she wasn't interested in helping me. I was standing in line, but for some reason I was bypassed. I am not sure what her reason was.
When I was at the gate to board the plane the same woman was serving as the ramp agent. My boarding ticket said boarding group 4, but in all my years of traveling with Charlie I have been allowed to pre-board. Actually, most airlines inform when I check-in that I can pre-board so that I have more time to get adjusted in my seat and not feel rushed down the aisle. When the ramp agent said that they were boarding first class passengers and those with special needs I got in line. When I got up to the front and asked if she has asked for special needs passengers she took one look at me and said "You aren't in a wheelchair" and made me stand off to the side. I kindly asked her if I could please preboard because travelling with a service dog is a bit stressful and I take longer to get down the aisle and she just waved me off and said she would preboard in a minute. I am pretty sure that when they say passengers with special needs that is the call for preboard and I am also fairly confident that I fall under that category.
She continued to call up boarding groups 1 and 2. I stood where she told me to stand feeling like a fool off to the side as an example of the disabled girl who didn't understand directions. It was humiliating. I kept asking her if I could board and she kept waiving me off. Finally, another ramp agent walked passed me and I kindly asked if this flight would be preboarding. She informed me that preboarding has already taken place. I asked her if I could preboard eventhough my ticket said boarding group 4 and she said of course. So I headed down the ramp.
By the time I got on the plane it will very packed. Some passengers boarding accidentally stepped on Charlie, which could have been avoided if I was allowed to board early. As I was boarding the plane I was greated by a flight attendent. I explained to her that I was unhappy with the ramp agent and told her what had happened, and instead of her being helpful or apologetic she gave me a fake plastic smile and said "oh no compassion?" I felt so stupid and frustrated. As I navigated my way to my seat I held up the line of other passengers for quite a while while I walked down the aisle, put my luggage away, and got my service dog situated. By the time I was sitting down I was in tears.
Thanks United for discriminating against a person with a disability and singling them out in front of a group of people. It really helped me feel more like a freak than I already feel most of the time. I don't know why this woman choose to single me out that day and make my life more difficult, but it was truly unfortunate. Maybe she doesn't have to let me preboard, but I wasn't asking for much and I obviously needed assistance. My ticket was even marked as needing assistance.
I guess my advice to those traveling with a disability is to choose a different airline. I have had great customer service with Delta and Jet Blue.
Here are a couple of interesting articles about how United Airlines has been accused of discriminating against those with disabilities. Has anyone else had a problem? Please share.
Employee Disability Discrimination and United had to pay out $600,000
Here is a story about US Airlines telling a man he could not fly due to his disability