United Airlines has publicly apologized for a recent series of incidents in which a local disabled high school football coach was forced to scoot off a plane on his rear twice during a trip to the Dominican Republic because the airline failed to provide proper equipment.
Independence High School football coach Tyler Schilhabel, who is paralyzed from the chest down, spoke out after multiple incidents occurred on United flights from Los Angeles International Airport to Punta Cana, Dominican Republic via Chicago.
He said poor service from the airline resulted in him needing to scoot off planes twice during the trip and be carried off by a flight attendant once.
In response to a Californian story on the incident, United issued a statement.
“We are proud to operate an airline that doesn’t just include people with disabilities but welcomes them as customers,” the airline said in an email. “In fact, thousands of people with disabilities fly United every day. That said, this incident falls far short of our own high standard of caring for our customers. We have been in touch with the customer to apologize and assure him that the errors that led to this situation are extremely rare.”
In an interview with The Californian Monday afternoon, Schilhabel reiterated that he would not fly on United ever again.
He said he has turned down offers from the airline to refund the flights as well as travel vouchers for both him and his wife.
“I accept it, it’s nice. I’m glad they issued one,” Schilhabel said of the apology. “I don’t know if a lot of companies would issue that.”
But he pushed back against the notion that what happened to him was a rare occurrence with the airline.
“To me, it’s hard to believe that they are truly sympathetic when it seems like it's more than a common occurrence,” he said. “To me, it’s not a rarity that this is happening.”
He said that since speaking out about his experience, he has heard from multiple members of the disabled community who shared similar stories with him.
Schilhabel was taking a honeymoon with his wife, who he married in November, when, he said, the airline failed to provide a special wheelchair that can navigate the narrow aisles of a plane multiple times.
On the way to the Dominican Republic, the airline twice did not provide the aisle chair, forcing a flight attendant to carry Schilhabel off the plane in Chicago, and forcing him to scoot off the plane on his rear in Punta Cana. His wife then needed to help him down the stairs exiting the plane.
Schilhabel said she injured her wrist in the process.
On the flight back, Schilhabel said he again needed to scoot off the plane in Chicago after United did not provide an aisle chair for a third time on that single vacation.
What started as an impassioned post on Facebook blossomed into multiple news accounts in which Schilhabel related his experience.
The news spread quickly through the webs of social media, with most who heard the story expressing sympathy for Schilhabel.
“”United, are you listening? This is a disgraceful way to treat another human being!” Hilary Whitcomb Baird said in the comments section of a link to the story on The California’s Facebook page.
“United should be ashamed of this,” wrote Vickie Underwood in the comment section, “and rethink their ways of helping their customers or they won’t have any left.”
Raeona Cox also weighed in, saying, “This is sad. A time this couple should be celebrating their new life together instead becomes a horrible nightmare.”
In addition to the flood of support that has come through social media, Schilhabel said, he has gotten calls from people offering their condolences and saying they support him.
“Having the community support has been nice. I’m really appreciative of that,” he said. “It’s very reassuring to see that people are sympathetic to the issue. Not necessarily that I’m looking for sympathy, but that I have the support of people that are concerned about what happened.”