Disabled Delta passenger made to ‘crawl’ off flights speaks to Gadling

I’ve been contacted by the disabled Delta passenger with muscular dystrophy who says she was forced to crawl off two different Delta flights on July 20 after wheelchairs were not available when her flights landed.

She was traveling Harrisburg –> Atlanta –> West Palm Beach.

I posted about the incidents on Wednesday.

Her name is Julianna Dombrowski, and she is a 53-year-old retired accountant who lives in the West Palm Beach area of Florida. She has muscular dystrophy and lives in a house with no stairs.

She agreed to answer some follow-up questions from Gadling.

We wanted to clarify exactly what happened, at least in her own words rather than through third parties. Some readers have suggested that Dombrowski requested her wheelchairs after the flights in question landed, which would explain why none were waiting. Also, semantics or not, some readers are questioning whether Dombrowski really crawled off her flights, or merely struggled to get off them by herself. I agree with this distinction in this case: While both are horrifying and not acceptable, the image of a disabled person forced to crawl certainly is more disgusting to consider and has the power to drive a level of angry reaction in people that perhaps exaggerates what really happened.

I’ve also been contacted by a few Delta flight attendants who say they know what really happened on these flights. None so far have agreed to go on the record.

Below is what Dombrowski had to tell Gadling.
Gadling: Did you arrange for a wheelchair to be present at both of the arrivals in question in advance? I imagine this is done (a.) at the time of booking or (b.) before landing, by alerting the flight crew that you need special assistance leaving the plane.

Dombrowski: When I purchased my ticket online I checked the wheelchair box. I placed a follow-up call because I needed to change the seating because of my handicap.

On flight 4664 from Harrisburg to Atlanta I checked with the flight attendant in route because I knew the turn around time would be tight because of a delay out of Harrisburg. She advise me she could not request the wheelchair until we landed.

Policy dictates the all other passengers leave the plane before the wheelchair passengers. I asked if this could be changed so I could get off first to make my connection. When the flight arrived on the tarmac the wheelchair was not there, so I waited until everyone had disembarked and the chair still had not arrived. I assumed additional help would arrive with the chair and it did not.

This may seem like hair-splitting, but did you literally crawl off the plane? I want to be as specific as possible. Oftentimes we use the term crawl metaphorically, which gets the point across even as it carries with it a pretty horrific image that might not be entirely accurate in terms of what really happened.

My disability is weakness in my leg and glut muscles, which forces me to live in a stair-less environment. In order to try to make my connection I needed to climb backwards down the staircase holding onto each step with my hands because the railing was not firm and did not give me the support to exit the staircase. I did not walk down those steps.

As to the shuttle bus in order to get into something high I need to hold onto something and use my upper body to pull myself up to get my second leg up onto each step and onto the seat.

Who do you blame? Delta Airlines in general? Delta crew? Delta ground crew? The airports (since I’m told, after the fact, that it is the airports’ responsibility to provide wheelchairs to the disabled)?

Dombrowski: I am unsure who to blame but believe someone must be held accountable for this disgraceful lack of respect for the handicapped when there are extended delays at an airport.

Has Delta been in touch since you sent your letter?

I sent my letter overnight mail on July 21st. I have confirmation it was received on July 22. I did receive two phone calls from Delta representatives on July 24th who said they are researching my complaints.

I have recently spoken to several representatives from Delta. They seem to be sincere in making things right for the next handicapped passenger. They cannot undue what was done. They offered me to participate in special handicap employee seminars to give my feedback to the appropriate personnel so I can help make a difference for other handicapped fliers.

Delta is taking responsibility for the contractors who dropped the ball on 7/20/08.