Denied Boarding: Air Carrier Bias Early this month, my husband and I had the pleasure of traveling to Spain with a group of our closest friends. We had an amazing time visiting wine country and coastal islands, eating amazing food and seeing beautiful sights. When it was time to come home however, we found ourselves completely at the mercy of someone else’s ableist bias, and were denied entry onto our flight home due to not having “an able-bodied chaperone”.
We had flown KLM from Minneapolis to Amsterdam, then another leg over to Barcelona. We had confirmed accessible services months in advance and had a wonderful flight over. Disability assistance was waiting for us at each leg with a team of people to help us in and out of the aisle chair to get to our mobility devices. On the flight back however, as we approached the check in counter, we were told something was very wrong and it had something to do with our wheelchairs. It wasn’t communicated to us what exactly that was, until it became very clear that boarding was nearly complete and that we were going to miss our flight.
KLM had determined, countries away from us and without speaking to us, that we would not be allowed to board the plane and it was all due to the fact that we weren’t flying with an able-bodied person. We were passed off to Delta, where they did everything they could for us, finding us a flight home out of Madrid the next day, laying over in JFK. The journey home became long and exhausting. I was forced to miss a work event in Washington, DC, ironically speaking on the importance of inclusion for all.
We then spent the day in the airport and it felt absolutely rotten. We hadn’t even known anything about the “policy” while it was happening, so we hadn’t even been able to fight it. Since then, I’ve been learning everything I can. So far- I’ve learned that this is apparently not that uncommon for travel abroad, and if anyone traveling with a disability begins to get an inkling that this may be occurring, educate yourself on their policy of disability travel.
Had I been educated, I would have been able to point out every policy they were breaking as they denied us. They were not only supposed to ask for volunteers in the area to be our “chaperone”, but they were also supposed to confirm with us our abilities and what we’re willing in able to do in the event of an emergency.
That had been a hard day and I wish I had been better prepared. I had no idea this was a possibility and my husband and I are going to continue to learn so that we can find a way to fight this. Everyone deserves to feel invited and included. Our presence is not a burden and it’s not something to just brush off onto someone willing to deal with it. We deserve to feel welcomed and valued, and I hope that the more we learn, the more we can drive positive change.