Tyler Schilhabel said his honeymoon got off to a rough start last Friday when poor service on a United Airlines flight forced him to scoot down the length of a plane on his rear end because the airline did not provide him a suitable wheelchair.
Then, on the flight back, it happened again.
“It’s frustrating, it’s humiliating, it’s exhausting,” he said. “I started to feel physically sick. It was just an unpleasant experience all around.”
United did not immediately respond to multiple requests for comment.
Schilhabel, the head coach of the Independence High School football team, is paralyzed from the chest down. He uses a wheelchair to get around and must use a special wheelchair provided by airlines to get to his seat on planes because the aisles on airplanes are too skinny for his normal wheelchair to get through.
“I always make it a point to let them know I need an aisle chair,” he said. “I show up at least three hours early to make sure it is taken care of. I did all my due diligence to make sure I covered myself.”
After getting married in November, Schilhabel and his wife, Courtney, left for their honeymoon last week.
They flew from Los Angeles International Airport to Punta Cana in the Dominican Republic, with a stopover in Chicago.
Schilhabel says the problems started when they landed in Chicago and an aisle wheelchair was not made available.
“I’ve flown with a number of different airlines and either they have the aisle chair waiting there when we land or its there within five minutes,” he said.
With a 50-minute connection, the Schilhabels did not have much time to lose.
Those who use aisle chairs to deplane have to wait until everybody else has left, Schilhabel said, which took about 20 minutes in Chicago.
He waited an additional 15 minutes before he said a flight attendant carried him to his own wheelchair at the front of the airplane.
“Luckily, we were able to make it to our connecting flight,” he said.
Then, when the couple landed in Punta Cana, they were faced with the same issue. And this time he said, there was no elevator or ramp to get off the plane, only a flight of portable stairs.
He said he scooted down the plane on his rear before his wife helped him down the steps, hurting her wrist in the process.
“We spent the first half-day of our honeymoon laying around and trying to recover from that debacle,” he said.
On their flight back, an elevator lifted Schilhabel onto the plane at Punta Cana, but he said he faced the same problem as before when he landed in Chicago.
No aisle wheelchair.
After waiting 45 minutes, he said he was again forced to scoot on his rear down the plane, this time for 31 rows.
“I got really dizzy,” he said. “I was pretty close to passing out. When you exert a lot of energy, at times that can happen.”
Now that Schilhabel has returned to Bakersfield, he says he has turned down offers from United to refund his and his wife’s tickets as well as $1,000 travel vouchers.
“It’s not worth it to take their vouchers and run the risk of going through all of this again,” he said. “It’s more about letting people know that this is unacceptable.”
He says he will never fly on United again.
“People need to know,” he said. “And (United) needs to be held responsible for the frankly terrible service that they offered.”