[Guest post by Aaron Worthing. See my confession of potential bias at the end to the post.]
This morning on the Blaze I learned of the story of Johnnie Tuitel. He is a motivational speaker who has cerebral palsy and has traveled all around the country, alone, for years—more than a million miles in flight alone, he says. You can watch a video on the story I am about to tell here, but the short version of it is this. U.S. Airways has an explicit policy stating that
For safety-related reasons, if a passenger has a mobility impairment so severe that the person is unable to physically assist in his or her own evacuation of the aircraft, US Airways requires that the passenger travel with a safety assistant to assist the passenger to exit the aircraft in case of an emergency evacuation. The safety assistant must purchase his or her own ticket.
Now, notice that the linked article associated with the video slightly misstates this policy, claiming that Mr. Tuitel would also have to be able to assist others in evacuation. That is not required—only that he can assist in his own evacuation. And I have had friends with cerebral palsy, so it seems very likely that he would only be able to provide limited assistance at best. So, they decided to apply this policy to him and booted him off a recent flight.
Now it would be one thing if Mr. Tuitel presented a danger to others. For instance, if he would positively impair others when they try to evacuate. But if the only concern is his own life, I say leave it up to him to decide whether to risk it.
What is being missed in this story, however, is that the law actually positively requires this discrimination. Allow me to explain.
First, it is probably legal to do this. It’s specifically authorized by 14 C.F.R. § 382.29(b)(3) (2010).
But that only says that U.S. Airways may do so. How on earth are they required to? Well, the answer is that they would be required to, or risk liability if there is a plane crash. Now the rational response might be, “well, couldn’t the airline ask Mr. Tuitel to sign a waiver saying if he needs to evacuate and can’t, that the airline isn’t liable for just leaving him there, possibly to die?” And the answer is yes, but it wouldn’t cover another situation: if a third party is hurt or killed trying to rescue him.
Picture this scenario. Due to pilot negligence, a plane has crashed, but remained intact. It is on fire. The passengers and crew are evacuating. But Mr. Tuitel cannot get out. So a passenger decides to stay behind and help him out. As he does, the plane blows up, killing both Mr. Tuitel and the good Samaritan.
In that situation the airline might escape liability for Mr. Tuitel’s death using a waiver like what I described, but it would still be liable for the good Samaritan’s death. It’s a legal cliché to say that “danger invites rescue” and that legal principle means that the airline is responsible for people harmed by the negligence of the airline, and any good Samaritans who are harmed while rescuing others from the dangers created by the airlines’ negligence. In short, any proper corporate counsel of the company would tell them to institute this policy.
But the result is that Mr. Tuitel must now pay twice as much to travel as others. I mean its not exactly segregated bathrooms on the scale of injustice, but its not right, either.
Confession of potential bias: I think it is fair to inform readers that I am myself disabled. I have faced discrimination based on my disabilities, allegedly for my own good some of the time. So I care passionately about eliminating any unjustified discrimination, especially disability discrimination. Whether that means I am blinded by bias, or educated by experience is your call.
[Posted and authored by Aaron Worthing.]