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Wheelchair Bound, Airline Passenger Forced To Crawl Up Flight Of Stairs

June 15, 2015 - Theresa Purcell, is unable to walk as a result of a neurological disorder that affects her motor and sensory nerves, which has weakened her body's muscles and nervous system. As a result Purcell must use a wheelchair. Back in June 2013, Purcell had booked a flight from San Diego to Hawaii on American Airlines.

On June 13th, Purcell arrived at San Diego International Airport, Purcell was taken by wheelchair to TSA screening and then onto American Airlines' gate for Flight 2612. When Purcell arrived at the gate, a gate agent asked "Are you able to walk onto the airplane?" Purcell indicated she was unable to walk and that she would be unable to walk up the passenger boarding stairs and asked if their was a ramp that she could use.

The American Airlines' gate agent informed Purcell that a ramp was not available. Purcell restated she was unable to walk. According to Purcell, the gate agent then told her "Well I don't know how you're going to get into the plane. You're going to have to figure it out."


Purcell was taken out to the tarmac in her wheelchair and wheeled up to the passenger boarding stairs for Flight 2612 by an airport worker. Purcell then asked the worker if a ramp or lift was going to be provided, as she was unable to walk up the stairs and into the aircraft.

The worker indicated that there was a lift but it was not close by and that there was no time to get it and that the passengers has to board the aircraft immediately. At that time, Purcell was wearing a cast on her ankle, which made it impossible for her to walk.

As a result of American Airlines not providing the required lift or ramp, Purcell had to make a decision, staying or getting onto that flight. As a result, Purcell crawled up the passengers stairway, as she was crawling up the stairs, Purcell slipped on the third step and almost tumbled down the stairway. This happened a couple of times, Purcell eventually made it to the top of the stairs and into the aircraft. To add insult to injury, once in the aircraft, Purcell had to crawl to her seat.



Under the Airline Carrier Access Act ("ACAA"), airlines are required under federal law to provide its passengers when needed, equipment to assist and accommodate disabled passengers. This act, (Title 49, Section 41705 of the U.S. Code) strictly prohibits commercial airlines from discriminating against passengers with disabilities.

As a result of American Airlines' failure to meet Purcell disability needs and subjecting to this public humiliation, on June 5, 2015, Purcell filed a lawsuit in Hawaii's District Court (Case 1:15-cv-00211-LEK-RLP) against the carrier. In court documents, Purcell states that she was approached by a flight attendant who stated, "You are a trooper, I have never seen anyone get onto a plane like that." Purcell stated this flight attendant did nothing to assist her.
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