Wednesday, September 2, 2009

I know I haven't blogged in forever...

but I felt I needed to make public the treatment from United Airlines today. The following is the email I sent to their customer service department. If I do not hear back soon, well... I think I make it clear in my email.

I am writing to complain about the treatment I received by your agents before I even boarded the plane. I fly frequently, but have never been forced to pay for having medical issues. Today and your airline marks the first time.
I was born with Cystic Fibrosis, a medical condition that requires me to follow an intensive medical regimine. To go on a five day trip, like I did today, I have to carry several bottles of pils to accommodate the fifty pills that I take a day. I carry a compressor, several nebulizers, and a small cooler for my inhaled medications. I also carry a large medical device, called a vest, that I must use twice a day. All of these items take up a significant amount of room. My vest alone is a large carryon item, one that I can not use for other items, medical or personal. This leaves me to use an additional carry on for all of my other medical items and, if I am only going away for a short time, my personal items as well.
My husband and I arrived at the Eugene airport with our bags. We have used these bags previously on United as a gate check and have never encountered a problem. In the past when the number and size of our bags has been questioned, a quick explination of my medical needs was all that was needed. This time proved very differently, and was the first time that I have ever seen my legal rights as a medically handicapped person infringed upon.
My husband and I were approached at the gate over the size of our bags. I explained that two of them included medical equipment, which is why I had them my possesion. The gate agent repeated that they were too large to carry on and they must be checked. I simply refuse to check medical equipment as a rule and am in my legal rights to do so. Upon further pushing, I conceded that the bags could be checked, but charging me to do so could be grounds for a disability lawsuit. The gate agent rudely informed me that I did not need to go to that point. I have never been rudely informed like that when standing up for my rights.
The gate agent called over her supervisor, Ted Dewey. Ted informed me that the bags must be checked because they included personal items. This brings up a number of issues. First, my bag would not be as large, without the medical equipment. Secondly, I have always had my first bag fee waived by other airlines that realize my medical equipment is what pushes me over. They are willing to accomodate me, and follow the laws set up to protect me. Ted was unwilling to do so. He offered to bring me a bag out of their storage for my medical equipment, but this was not a feasible solution for a number of reasons. First, I did not feel comfortable unpacking my bag in the terminal. It is carefully paked to protect my medical and personal items. Second, I would still have the large bag in question, now poorly packed lending my personal items to damage, and I would still have to pay the fee, as Ted informed me he didn't have to make any accomodation for my personal items. However, again, these personal items would not be an issue, if it were not for my medical equipment. Ted semmed oblivious to this issue. Thirdly, by being asked to unpack in the terminal, I felt as if I was being asked to prove my condition. When you don't look sick, people in authority often feel the need to have sickness proven to them.
My husband and I feel like we have been discriminated against. We know that the lack of accomodation is grounds for an ADA lawsuit. Not being litigous, we wish to avoid that, but are willing to take nescisary steps to ensure that we are compensated for our baggage fees, and the time it takes to reach a resolution on this issue. Fair compensation, at this time, would be a full refond of our baggage fees, which will total $80 after our return flight on Sunday. We are uninterested in vouchers for future travel, as we are unwilling to fly an airline that breaks laws to make a dime off of the disabled. Also, we may take our story to the media, as we feel that other people should be informed at how far United will go to make money. I was reminded at how greedy an airline could be when Ted informed me that accomodating a bag could lead to $100 price hikes, and I should feel lucky that I only was paying $20 a bag. Amazing how that doesn't add up, but little in this day did.

32 comments:

Jen said...

You are my hero. Just so you know.

wenchlette said...

I cannot believe that a major airline would force a disabled person to pay for their disability. Are you kidding me?! Much love to you, hon. Sounds like you were a lot more patient with them than I would have been!

mamamilkers said...

Two things I thought of: United are assholes. I had a terrible run-in with them when I was pregnant and wow. They are awful. Your story is, unfortunately, not surprising to me that this happened with them.


Also, be careful when booking flights on other carriers. We also refuse to fly United and were extremely dismayed when the tickets we bought for a recent flight on another carrier actually had us flying on United! Not sure how common that is, but we were shocked.

I wish you luck getting this resolved. It sounds really awful.

Jean Teasdale said...

You are amazing for posting this instead of ripping off the head of Ted Dewey right there in the terminal and checking that with your personal items.

Keep going with this. Contact whoever you feel like talking to, because this is important. They can't just do that. I can't believe they think they can. Wow. Illness is enough without getting hassled about trying to keep your most important things as close as possible. There is a lot of potential for disaster in the originally suggested setup, and it's mind-boggling that nobody thought of that.

Best of luck to you and lots of love. ::hugs::

-native medley

geekgirl79 said...

I'm so sad that this happened. Keep on persevering, they owe you not only $80 but a heartfelt apology.

As well as a concrete plan on how this sort of FUBAR situation will never, ever happen again.

Amy said...

Wow what assholes. I hope they refund your money and apologize for being such dick heads!

I'll never fly on them now!!!!!

Erin said...

You should send this to Consumerist.com - it's right up their alley.

Heather said...

Good for you! Standing up for your rights is an important part of dealing with your illness. My husband has MS and in the last 6 months we have been:

stopped by police on suspicion of imparied driving (that's counter clerk for not simply asking us why he's wobbly!)

kicked out of a bar because he was 'too drunk' (he hadn't had a drop, he tripped on a stair, it happens when you can't feel your feet)

yelled at my an old lady in a parking lot because she didn't feel he was 'disabled enough' to use one of the many available access parking spots (we have a permit)

forced to provide a dr note for his daily injections in order to take them with us on a train trip (despite the fact that he too carried a big bag of med supplies)

Lana said...

Whatever you do, DON'T ever let them check your medical equipment again, no matter how short the flight, even if it means missing the flight. That could kill you. We were on a ninety-minute flight recently that was diverted to a tiny airport, where we sat for four extra hours unable to disembark or access checked luggage.

Tara said...

Wow Tally, I would have been pissed!!! Guess the next time I fly I will bring a doctor's note. I've never done so in the past, but it might be a good idea. Wow. I'm stunned. I may never book on United as well. They can have Ted to thank for that.

Novack said...

Go Girl!

Ronnie "Sickboy" Sharpe said...

I second the comment that you should send your story to consumerist.com. They have a TON of readers and are all about holding businesses accountable.

Ronnie

Nita said...

Gurl, go straight to the media and don't look back. Holy hell. If that isn't the most asinine thing ever. I'm sorry about you having to deal with that.

Ronnie "Sickboy" Sharpe said...

A couple resources for you:

http://www.southwest.com/travel_center/14cfr.pdf

http://airconsumer.ost.dot.gov/publications/disabled.htm

Come to think of it, United is the only airline that gave me trouble as well. They FORCED me to check my vest...they need to be dealt with.

Ronnie

kateweb said...

what happened to you is soo soo wrong I think I may submit your story to Digg

Rebekah said...

Talana,

I think you need to go to the media NOW. Don't wait. That behavior was completely unacceptable and obviously the employees there need to have further training on disability laws and rights.

I am so sorry you had to go through that and if that happened to us, I would be LIVID.

@ said...

Words fail...I thought it was ILLEGAL to require someone to check medical equipment. Maybe I need to do some more research...I've never had an issue with the 2 airlines I've flown with with the Vest...(especially when I tell them how much it cost :P ). If it didn't fit in the overhead, they put it up with the stewards. I hope you do go to that website that was suggested, and the media. (((hugs)))

Cathryn said...

Hi Talana,
I'm so sorry you had a bad experience at EUG. I'm contacting the local station manager for a review of what happened. Please feel free to follow up with me at 541-682-5430.
Cathryn Stephens,Director of Marketing & Public Relations, Eugene Airport

Katey said...

Thanks for posting about this. That is so ridiculous and un-called for. I would definitely bring this issue to media attention and get your full $80 back for baggage fees. It's amazing at what lengths people will go to to make money off of others.

Rachael said...

I HIGHLY recommend sending this to The Consumerist (consumerist.com). They help the little guy get fair treatment by big corporations. This is awful and you deserve your fees to be reimbursed and an apology. :(

kateweb said...

ok folks story has been dug http://digg.com/people/woman_forced_to_pay_to_check_medical_equipment_by_United_Air

Jerusha said...

I was pointed here by a friend on LiveJournal.

*wow* That's about all I can say.

IMO, don't wait on them to do the Right Thing -- go even more public with the story than you already had. This kind of shameful treatment does not EVER need to be kept in the dark.

laurensa said...

That is simply completely inexcusable and hateful. Not to mention illegal! The Americans with Disabilites Act says they must make reasonable accomodations--sounds like at the very least a very polite, very firm, and very COLD letter needs to be written to the CEO informing him that if you are not reimbursed in cash for your extra expense, you will have no choice but to pursue the matter further.

awaitinggrace said...

Geez, you're not much of an entitlement bitch or anything; are you? Boo hoo, poor you, you had to pay for your bags. Big deal. So many disabled people think the world owes them everything these days. It's sad. And I state this as an individual with multiple disabilities.

Jen said...

The only thing United owed Talana, and you for that matter Grace, was *compliance with the law*. The ADA says she doesn't have to check bags, then she doesn't have to check bags, period. It's not an entitlement complex, IT'S FEDERAL LAW. What's next? Assistance dogs for the blind/deaf/epileptic/whatever have to go in the cargo hold with other pets? No. Stand up for your rights, stand up for the rights of others. It is codified in LAW at the FEDERAL LEVEL that what United did was wrong. Period.

thetroubleisme said...

Go you and your dirty entitlement. Oh, wait those are legal rights, aren't they?

lametiger said...

There is a part of me that relates to where awaitinggrace is coming from. I do believe there are some people who look to ADA for a complete leveler when the truth is that life isn't totally fair and you live with the hand you're dealt. I DON'T think that you are wrong, however, in objecting to having potentially life-saving equipment relegated to the hold. There is a good reason why medical equipment and mobility aids are exempted from the usual restrictions on luggage. As Jen points out, assistance animals fall in exactly the same category. For the record, I have a relatively minor handicap--above knee amputation of my right leg causing me to use crutches for mobility, so I get off easy compared to you.

George said...

Have you called the ADA information line? http://www.ada.gov/infoline.htm

1-800-514-0301

They should know this before it hits the news! And yes send it to the media outlets anyway!

bob said...

I would write to the register guard and also the local tv stations. This should never have happened. If you give me permission, I will submit the stories on your behalf.

KelleBelle said...

That's just horrendous and ignorant of all involved on United's part. I hope someone is able to get you some resolution.

CowTown said...

Yowsers! I'd be pissed too.

Hillrom, the Vest company, told me that the Vest *can not* be checked in and flown under the plane b/c the computer chips in the machine can malfunction and break the whole thing. They said where they place luggage isn't within the air compressed area (like where the passengers are) and it can break it. They also told me, if it IS checked on and breaks, that it's our fault and they won't replace it. I don't know if that part is true, but that's what they told me. Throw that in the United Airlines' face.

Just a little note.

I really hope they get their sheit together and send you that refund pronto.

Froggymama said...

I hear ya sister! When Froggy and I flew Northwest, we had the same problem. I just stood in the aisle confronted by a fligh attendant while the flight was delayed because our vest wouldn't fit in the overhead or under the seat and said, "This equipment is $16,000 and my daughter needs it to stay alive, there is absolutely no way I'm checking it." The attendant actually had the pilot come out of the cockpit to approve the vest bulging out from under our seat. I was sweating and about ready to throw a punch at anyone who told us we'd have to check it. The pilot took one look at my red, angry mama face and the plane took off. But man, it was embarrassing and nothing I'd like to do again. Fortunately the last time we flew, the lovely flight attendant actually carried the vest to the back of the plane where they keep their personal belongings and then brought it out to us when the flight was over. It restored my faith in humanity. Love to you!