A passenger in a wheelchair says his honeymoon turned into a nightmare when his flights did not have the proper equipment to accommodate his needs
A passenger in a wheelchair says his honeymoon turned into a nightmare because his United flights from Los Angeles to the Dominican Republic and back again reportedly did not have the proper equipment to accommodate his needs.
Tyler Schilhabel, a high school football coach, and his wife flew from Los Angeles to Chicago last week, and they landed a bit late, so time was tight to make their connecting flight to the Dominican Republic.
Normally, passengers with disabilities will wait for a specially designed wheel chair that fits through the narrow aisles of a plane. But, as Schilhabel recalled to local outlet ABC 7, “one of the flight attendants, who knew that I was in a rush and the aisle chair wasn’t there — he actually picked me up, lifted me and put me into my normal chair so that I could make my connecting flight.”
A United spokesperson, Charles Hobart, tells PEOPLE that while an aisle chair was available at the time, it likely wasn’t the most efficient option.
Then, when his flight arrived in Punta Cana, he learned the airport lacks jet bridges to connect planes to the terminal and did not have a working lift, which is used to transport passengers who cannot take the stairs from the plane to the ground below.
So, Schilhabel told ABC, that after scooting down the aisle because there was no aisle chair, he did what he felt most comfortable with to exit the plane in the difficult scenario.
“We just hopped down,” he said. “[My wife] grabbed my legs, and I hopped down step by step on my bottom.”
The crew in Punta Cana actually offered to carry the newlywed down the stairs, Hobart says, but Schilhabel told ABC he didn’t “trust them.” (United has purchased its own lift to use at the Punta Cana airport in the future, according to Hobart.)
When the couple’s return flight from the Caribbean landed in Chicago, an aisle chair wasn’t immediately available again. Hobart says it would’ve have been ready within 10 minutes or so.
But an already exhausted Schilhabel decided not to wait because “we had a connecting flight, still had to get through customs,” he told ABC 7. “So I scooted on my bottom all 31 rows to the front of the plane, got on my chair, got through customs.”
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Hobart tells PEOPLE that while “we fly thousands of people with disabilities every day and we want to do everything we can to ensure they have a pleasant travel experience with us, what happened last week falls far short of our own high standards.”
He adds that, “We have been in touch with the customer, and we’re taking the opportunity to discuss with our employees how we could’ve done this better and to make sure we don’t have an issue like this ever again.”