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United to Disabled Woman: Sorry for Flight Attendant Flap

April 18, 2010 | Posted in: Ask Rick,Flight Attendants,United

united disabled sorry flight attendant

The disabled woman in the center of a rather nasty story about a United Airlines flight attendant who refused to help her with her carryon bag – even though United’s website say such assistance is part of their service for the disabled – has heard from the airline.

United has apologized. As the anonymous disabled woman writes on her blog:

“They told me they received a swarm of letters and emails referring to me and my experience, and they thanked me for ‘shining a light on this problem’. They’ve offered me an apology for everything that happened and are mailing me a written apology as well. Beyond that, they’ll be calling me again to discuss it more.”

Personally, I hope the further discussion at least includes a voucher for a free flight.

If you missed the original story, you can catch up here.

14 Responses to “United to Disabled Woman: Sorry for Flight Attendant Flap”

  1. rainyb says:

    Sorry, me again ;o) this could also apply to seniors who have difficulty dealing with a carryon bags into overhead bins which are often quite high. Even a fit senior might need help. I have seen helpful male passengers provide assistance which is great, but should not be expected?

  2. Rick Seaney says:


    I’ve seen a lot of passengers, men and women, assisting the elderly.


  3. Roger says:

    When this story first broke, I quickly jumped on the sympathy bandwagon. However, having followed the link in your post to this lady’s blog where one can read her letter to United, I am now suspicious.

    In her rambling, filled with extraneous information, long-winded letter she repeatedly, and I mean REPEATEDLY informs the reader that she is disabled. She takes great care to explain that she needed help with every part of this trip, that she could do nothing herself. This is a red flag to me. It crosses the line from explaining why she asked for help on the airplane over to being an excuse as to why she shouldn’t be responsible for herself.

    I would think that someone who was truly disabled would mention it when necessary, say at the beginning of the letter, but otherwise want to appear as normal as possible. “Handi-capable” to use the terminology of South Park’s “Jimmy” character. Wouldn’t you want to avoid having people jump to the conclusion that there was something inferior about you? That’s what happens when you refer to yourself as disabled in every other sentence.

    Of course, it impossible to know someone’s personality just by reading a single blog post, so it’s entirely possible I’m way off base here. Maybe she’s really a sweet lady and the repeated insistence in the letter that she is disabled is a product of angry writing, rather than an attempt to convince the world she isn’t responsible for what happened.

    Except……Well, if you know you can’t lift your luggage overhead, why wouldn’t you check everything?

    Sure, United’s website says they will provide the service and so they have absolutely violated their own policy, but would you really count on that service anyway?

    As I said, I could be completely mis-reading the situation, so that’s why I’ll remain in the suspicious category rather than jump right over to the blame-the-victim crowd.


  4. Rick Seaney says:


    All I can say is, United is apparently taking her claim seriously. Again, if I learn more about this situation, I will pass it along.

    Thanks for writing,

  5. S N says:

    If someone is disabled, and they have carry-on luggage, I think a good case could be made for a flight attendant helping such a person. Of course, such a person should also check what they can if they can’t handle their own bags, but exceptions need to be made for items that must go carry-on. Someone who is disabled could possibly need on-board items the rest of us don’t have to carry.

    However, anyone else–I don’t care what age you are, if you’re an adult–should check anything they can’t lift over their head. I don’t have much sympathy for folks who drag the kitchen sink on and then can’t put the bags in the bin (assuming such bags don’t fit under their seat).

    In sum–you shouldn’t carry on any bag you can’t lift, much the same way you shouldn’t drive a big vehicle if you can’t park it. :)

  6. Laurie says:

    I think her last comment says it all. ” I hope the discussion includes a flight voucher”.

  7. MM says:

    I used to be a flight attendant with a well known international airline. Let me tell you “back in the day” part of my duties were to help ALL passengers with their overhead luggage if need be. Could not imagine refusing an elderly or disabled person.

  8. Joe says:

    As a flight attendant myself, I understand the seriousness of this situation. Certainly, a disabled passenger needing special assistance should receive any assistance they may need. However, that being said. If you know when you arrive at the airport and you know you can’t manage your bags, you should check them. I know with all the fees and nickel and diming going on in the airline industry it’s sometimes financially not possible to check your bag. But if you have the means you should check your bags. A flight attendant is there to ASSIST you with your bags. If you pack your bag and it weighs 200lbs (I know more likely lighter), why should the flight attendant risk getting an injury stowing your bag. A lot of people don’t realize, when a flight attendant is injured the amount of pay they receive is not nearly what they would make working. As someone who has been injured by one of these heavy bags, I missed two weeks of work and got maybe half the pay I would have made had I worked those shifts. Moral of the story is: a flight attendant is there to ASSIST you with your luggage, not lug it in the overhead bin for you. If you can’t assist them, then maybe you should think of checking your bag.

  9. Rick Seaney says:


    The person who said “I hope the discussion includes a flight voucher” wasn’t the disabled woman – I said that.


  10. Rick Seaney says:


    Thanks for your input – it is appreciated.


  11. Rick Seaney says:


    Another voice from the front lines – thanks for writing.


  12. mm says:

    Joe, you are absolutely correct that the amount of carry on baggage today far exceeds anything I saw in my day. I probably couldn’t lift it if I tried. People will bring on the kitchen sink if it keeps them from paying for it. it does seem a bit rude at times. There were definite guidelines then and they were enforced. It would have been embarrassing to haul on a bag too heavy or big. I flew between 1979-1990.

  13. The airlines have reduced staffing to minimums. There just aren’t enough of us to go around, especially during boarding. Not only are the bags over-stuffed and too heavy for lifting, many passengers leave carry-ons extended outside of a bin knowing that the compartment will not close. Of course, this is a NO-GO if a bin will not closed. The flight attendant is left to re-organize, remove, and re-stow these items. All this, while the company pressures the agent to close the door early. Oh, and you should know that the FAA requires that ALL carry-on luggage be stowed, AND all overhead compartments closed, before the door of the aircraft is closed. You should also know that some of the larger drop down center overhead compartments are extremely heavy and back breaking at closing/departure time. On a 777, there may be 60-80 center overstuffed back breaking bins for flight attendants to close at the last minute. I’m saving myself for that. Yep. But during boarding, I will “assist” as needed with carry-ons. Not solo-lift, but assist.

  14. Rick Seaney says:


    Thanks for the inside viewpoint – I think a lot of people just don’t understand what all flight attendants do.


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