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Disabled man rebukes Southwest Airlines for failing to accommodate his medical device

USA TODAY logo USA TODAY 5/15/2019 Adrienne Jordan
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A man in a wheelchair says Southwest Airlines wouldn't fly him to his destination – a move the airline says it took because it couldn't handle his specialized lift device.

Jon Morrow, who is paralyzed from the neck down, has brittle bones and a fused spine. He posted on Facebook that he requires a specialized lift to be safely moved from his wheelchair to a seat as it is extremely dangerous for him to be lifted by hand.

Morrow said that U.S. airlines, including Southwest, do not provide appropriate lifts, so he purchased a $15,000 Eagle lift himself.

"It's a special hoist built to work on all aircraft that transfers you from your wheelchair into an airline seat. It's faster, safer, and much more humane," he wrote.

Morrow said his caregivers are trained to use the Eagle lift. "I booked THREE tickets on Southwest and told them I would be bringing the Eagle as well as licensed personnel to use it," Morrow wrote on his Facebook page May 11. "A week ago, they finally got back to me and told me this was fine. I was ecstatic! But then yesterday, they change their mind and told me they were not under any circumstances allowing the Eagle on board."

According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, the Air Carrier Access Act states that airlines can’t refuse people with disabilities, except for passengers who are “inimical to the safety of the flight.” Additionally, the act says that airlines are required to provide assistance with boarding and deplaning: "Assistance within the cabin is also required, but not extensive personal services."

"In this instance, the customer was informed that we do not have boarding procedures for the safe use of his personal Eagle lift device nor do our employees have training for storage of the device," Southwest said in a statement to USA TODAY. "Southwest Airlines takes pride in making air travel accessible to customers who require assistance when flying with us and is committed to full compliance with regulations under the Air Carrier Access Act."

The statement noted that the airline decided it could not accommodate Morrow after reviewing the life device's specifications and procedures for transporting Morrow safely.

"However, we have been in contact with the manufacturer of this device to learn more about the device’s unique handling and storage requirements," Southwest said. 

Morrow noted that the device is used on airlines outside the U.S. "This is a device that is standard operating procedure for all passengers in wheelchairs outside the US. It's been used safely on thousands of flights," he wrote. 

He reported in a video on Facebook that he was able to travel with JetBlue Tuesday instead. USA TODAY has reached out to JetBlue for comment. 

Morrow noted on Facebook that he was trying to make it as easy as possible on the airlines by traveling with his own device and people trained to use it. He wrote: "People in wheelchairs should be able to fly."

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Disabled man rebukes Southwest Airlines for failing to accommodate his medical device

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