'Severely Disabled' Passenger Says Southwest Denied Him Medical Device Necessary for Him to Fly
The man says Southwest Airlines did not allow him to use a device that transports him from his wheelchair to an airplane seat
A passenger with a disability said that he was unable to board a Southwest flight after the airline denied him the use of a necessary medical device.
In a lengthy Facebook post on Saturday, Jon Morrow explained that he is unable to be transported from his wheelchair to an airplane seat by hand.
“I can’t transfer myself, and I have brittle bones, as well as a fused spine,” he wrote. “I also can’t move from the neck down. I also have a letter from my physician stating that it would be EXTREMELY dangerous to transfer me by hand on an airplane. There simply isn’t enough room for everyone to have proper body mechanics.”
As a solution, Morrow said that he bought a $15,000 medical device called an Eagle Lift for himself last year.
The Eagle Lift allows Morrow to be transported safely from his wheelchair to a seat, and he notes it is used in airports outside of the United States. All of Morrow’s caregivers are trained and certified on how to operate the device.
“It’s a special hoist built to work on all aircraft that transfers you from your wheelchair into an airline seat,” Morrow wrote in his Facebook post. “It’s faster, safer, and much more humane.”
When Morrow reached out to Southwest about using his Eagle Lift and his trained caregivers to transport him onto an upcoming flight, the airline initially said yes — but then reversed their decision.
“Mind you, this is a device that is standard operating procedure for all passengers in wheelchairs outside the U.S.,” he wrote. “It’s been used safely on thousands of flights. I’m also providing the Eagle and trained personnel at MY expense.”
“Still they refuse. They dig in their heels. They tell me the decision cannot be appealed further,” he continued.
“People who cannot transfer themselves should not be manhandled by firefighters,” he wrote. “They should be able to use a device built and tested for that exact purpose, recognized worldwide for its safety and efficiency.”
Morrow concluded his lengthy post: “People in wheelchairs should be able to fly.”
In a followup post on Tuesday, Morrow said he was able to take a Jet Blue flight instead.
According to the Department of Transportation, the Air Carrier Access Act says that airlines can’t refuse transportation on the basis of disability, and are “required to provide assistance with boarding, deplaning and making connections.”
In a statement on Wednesday, a spokesperson for Southwest told PEOPLE: “Southwest Airlines takes pride in making air travel accessible to customers who require assistance when flying with us and is committed to full compliance with regulations under the Air Carrier Access Act.”
“In this instance, the customer was informed that we do not have boarding procedures for the safe use of his personal Eagle Lift device nor do our employees have training for storage of the device,” the statement continued. “This final decision was made after reviewing the device’s specifications and the requirements for transporting it and the customer safely.”
The statement concluded by saying that Southwest is now attempting to “learn more” about the Eagle Lift device.
“However, we have been in contact with the manufacturer of this device to learn more about the device’s unique handling and storage requirements,” the statement read. “We remain committed to extending our legendary Southwest hospitality to every customer who chooses to fly with us, and we take great measures to comply with all federal accessibility requirements.”