Amputee Suing American Airlines for Allegedly Asking Her to 'Hop' Down Aisle

An amputee from Jerome, Idaho, has filed a suit in federal court against American Airlines and ticket portal CheapOair, saying that crew members forced her to crawl down an airplane aisle to get to the bathroom.

Tammy Spears, who had one leg amputated, was flying from Salt Lake City to Charlotte, North Carolina, last August when she needed to use the bathroom but was unable to do so because the plane did not have a wheelchair narrow enough to navigate the slim aisles.

According to the lawsuit, Spears "was directed by American's flight attendants, and other agents, to 'scoot' on the floor of the cabin."

Spears' attorney, Diane Marger Moore, told Newsweek that the airline failed to have a wheelchair on board even though Spears had notified it well in advance that she would require one during the four-hour flight.

Aircraft of a certain size are required to have a wheelchair on board. Spears had driven from her home state of Idaho to Utah for this particular flight because American Airlines had recommended she fly out of Salt Lake City since only certain flights would accommodate her disability.

Kathi Moore, a spokesperson from Fareportal, the parent company of CheapOair, told Newsweek that the online travel agency allows customers to indicate if they will require special accommodations during their flight.

"In this case, our records indicate that Ms. Spears made no such special accommodation request," Moore said. "We deeply sympathize with Ms. Spears' experience, but the conversation in this regard must be between her and the airline."

American Airlines
An American Airlines plane at Washington National Airport in Arlington, Virginia, on April 11. Daniel Slim/AFP

Upon arriving at the airport, the suit says, Spears alerted gate agents an hour before departure, and crew members assured her that she had an aisle seat when she boarded.

An hour into the flight, Spears needed to use the restroom. After being told by a flight attendant to "hold it," the lawsuit says, flight attendants asked her to "hop" down the aisle.

Moore said Spears felt repeatedly humiliated as she attempted to get down the aisle to the bathroom without a wheelchair.

Although cabin crew members tried to assist Spears, they "lifted, dropped, pushed, dragged and injured Mrs. Spears in their efforts to get her out of her seat and into the forward lavatory," according to the suit.

When Spears finally arrived at the lavatory, she was too exhausted to lift herself. At this point, flight attendants and other passengers tried to elevate her with suitcases. The suit says crew members then insisted she use the bathroom with the door open.

After using the restroom, Spears told the crew she could not crawl back to her seat. According to the suit, "her humiliation and utter pain were so obvious to passengers" that a man sitting in first class offered Spears his seat so she could avoid returning to hers. The passenger took a coach seat instead.

For the remainder of the flight, Spears required supplemental oxygen for her increased blood pressure and difficulty breathing because of the ordeal. When the plane arrived in Charlotte, American's employees and EMT personnel checked her vitals and placed her in a wheelchair before taking her to an interrogation room rather than to her connecting flight to Richmond, Virginia.

While Spears was being interrogated, the airline contacted her husband and offered him a $150 credit toward another American Airlines flight, but without informing him of what had happened.

A spokesperson from American Airlines told Newsweek, "We take the safety and comfort of our customers very seriously, and we're committed to providing a positive experience for everyone who travels with us. We have been in contact with Ms. Spears and her family on multiple occasions, and we will address the allegations in the lawsuit in due course."

However, Moore said the actions American took to remediate the situation were "hardly adequate."

"When she got to Richmond, she was in so much pain and distress she tried to get American Airlines to permit her to fly on an earlier flight," Moore said. "But they refused to make the accommodation."

Moore said this is not the first time passengers have reported mistreatment. "American Airlines desperately has to change their policy," Moore said. "American Airlines has been accused in multiple cases of doing bad things to disabled passengers."

Last July, a man flying to Minneapolis with his wife said flight attendants forgot to check his wheelchair, according to USA Today. American Airlines later tracked down the wheelchair, which had been sent to three other places before reaching Minneapolis.

Last December, a 67-year-old woman was reportedly left in her wheelchair overnight at Chicago O'Hare International Airport after her American Airlines flight was canceled. Her family was unable to locate her until the next day, after calling the airline and the airport to track her down.