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COMPLAINT: 86 Year Old Grandma gets booted off aircraft for being ill

 
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  #1  
Old Aug 24, 2010, 8:54 AM
joegoblue joegoblue is offline
 
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On the return trip of an Alaska Airlines round trip flight 313 from San Francisco to Seattle; our eighty six year old grandmother was, just prior to departure, escorted off the aircraft by two gate agents. Her traveling companions, two daughters and son in law, followed voluntarily.

In the aircraft, Nanny (The Grandmother) and one daughter who happened to be a RN were seated towards the front of the aircraft. My wife and I were seating in the rear. I looked up to see our sister hurrying down the aisle to advise us, in panic mode, that Grandmother was being removed from the aircraft for medical reasons. We immediately left our seats but by the time we got to Nanny’s seat, all we could see were two airline gate agents physically removing granny from the aircraft. There was no discussion, no consultation with the family. This 86 year old grandmother was forcibly removed from her flight.

Here is what we learned. We were all returning from our granddaughters wedding in San Francisco. Nanny, the Grandmother, was fully celebratory, and the party and late hours contributed to Nanny’s feeling unwell during the night, not sleeping, and being nauseous. There was also some history of stomach issues with Nanny. The Family consulted and concluded that best thing for Nanny would be for her to get home as soon as possible and get her to her personal physician and local Healthcare. And Nanny, who is an able aware competent senior woman, wanted to go home, and felt, despite being sick, able to make the trip.

Because Nanny was ill, and at times, presented as ill, we asked for early boarding and a wheelchair assist to the gate. Nanny walked to her seat. During this process, a flight attendant asked Nanny’s daughter, an RN, if Nanny was ill. Sister RN told her what had happened and expressed her concern about the family’s need to keep Nanny hydrated – primarily due to her age. The flight attendant passed on some version of this information to the gate agent. The gate agent called Alaska Airlines medical consultant, Med Link, and passed on some version of the story. The RN sister was summoned to the gate and had a very reluctant low key conversation with some Med Link professional.

According to the gate agent, Nanny was pulled off the aircraft because Med Link has a rule that one can not fly if one has had an emesis (vomiting episode) two hours before departure. But Granny had not vomited since the prior night. Family was not allowed to review the decision process with Med Link. It was a fait accompli. And finally, the notion of such a rule is just plain stupid since every one knows that among the tens of thousand of returning passengers from Mexico, Las Vegas, and Reno, a significant percentage are puking their guts out in the airport just before they board. The other issue is the question of accountability. Who is accountable at Alaska Airlines for this decision? In our efforts to learn the antecedents for Nanny’s removal, no one was responsible. It was a med-link decision but the customer can’t talk to med link. When I read among the multitude of complaints allegations of that Fascist or Nazi management dictator styles prevailing in these unfriendly skies, it is precisely because as you go through this process, the customer hears over and over from a variety of gate agents and supervisors “the rule is the rule”, “No one is responsible”, “it is protocol not we who send you to the camps”!

I need to acknowledge that the Alaska Airlines personnel on the ground In San Francisco with whom we discussed these issues were professional. Regardless of the lack of productivity, the conversations I had with SF Alaska Airlines were professional and the agents were courteous. Alaska Airlines allowed Nanny and the families to spend their two hour observation period in the Boardroom, we were booked promptly on the next flight and my wife and I were given an exit row seat. I was told Alaska would pay the cost of a shuttle from Seattle to my home but that did not happen. After another prolonged discussion in Seattle, I was given a hotel room.

Here are my observations. If you are escorting a relative who appears to be ill and a flight attendant cozies up to you and asks for information about the health of your friend or loved one, either tell them to mind their own business or lie and say they are healthy but look sick. Whatever you say can be used against you. And if your loved one is elderly, be particularly oblique. Flights diverted for health emergencies are a nightmare for all. It makes sense for airlines to prevent air travel for those in medical crisis. But who makes the call between being sick or in a severe medical crisis? In their zeal to avoid diverted flights, the loss of profit caused by a diverted flight, and subsequent costs, Alaska Airlines is pulling out elderly who are merely sick, causing them to be sicker, and suffer. This is a type of De Facto elder discrimination or elder abuse policy that must be promoted at the highest executive level at Alaska Airlines, since no one at the operational level has a role in the decision. My formal complaint to the DOT Aviation and Consumer Protection and Enforcement will ask the agency to count the medical pulls and measure the median age of the medical pulls versus the median age of the average customer. That would at least tell us something about the airline policy as it relates to our elder population.
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  #2  
Old Aug 24, 2010, 3:14 PM
Gromit801 Gromit801 is offline
 
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And maybe Granny should not have boarded the place if she was sick. ALL airlines watch for this. ESPECIALLY an elderly person who could go from a little sick, to deathly ill in flight. You can be cynical and claim they don't want the liability. You could be more caring about granny, and realize that her life could have been at risk if her condition deteriorated while at 33,000 feet. Often, the cabin pressurization will have an adverse affect on an already ill person.

Med-Link made the call, and ASA followed their advice. At some point, information was obtained that granny vomited prior to the flight. How would Med-Link have thought otherwise?

Your last paragraph should not be taken as good advice for anyone. If you think all an airline cares about is a diverted flight, you've been reading too much Kate Hanny. NO ONE, not the airlines, and most assuredly the passengers, wants someone to die on their flight.

I think the airlines handled the situation as best they could. You admit the staff did everything possible to deal with your situation, but they still had to follow the advice of the medical personnel. The alternative was a gamble. Ignore the advice, and HOPE granny doesn't become even more ill in flight. I wouldn't gamble my grandmother's life like that. There's always other flights. Only one granny.
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  #3  
Old Aug 24, 2010, 4:10 PM
cortney cortney is offline
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they pulled the grandmother off for her own well being it sounds. if she was ill she should have never been boarded in the first place. the last thing the airline wants or any passenger wants is a medical diversion. med-link made the decision and the airline followed that decision to remove her. and when you say "the next time a flight attendant cozies up to you and asks for information about the health of your friend or loved one, either tell them to mind their own business or lie and say they are healthy but look sick" makes me sick to even hear that you would say that. what if your friend or yourself (god forbid)was sick and you lied to a crew member about it...now they have a med. emergency on board when it could have been avoided and now divert, all because you LIED. i think alaska handled this fine
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  #4  
Old Aug 24, 2010, 4:58 PM
joegoblue joegoblue is offline
 
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Originally Posted by Gromit801 View Post
And maybe Granny should not have boarded the place if she was sick. ALL airlines watch for this. ESPECIALLY an elderly person who could go from a little sick, to deathly ill in flight. You can be cynical and claim they don't want the liability. You could be more caring about granny, and realize that her life could have been at risk if her condition deteriorated while at 33,000 feet. Often, the cabin pressurization will have an adverse affect on an already ill person.

Med-Link made the call, and ASA followed their advice. At some point, information was obtained that granny vomited prior to the flight. How would Med-Link have thought otherwise?

Your last paragraph should not be taken as good advice for anyone. If you think all an airline cares about is a diverted flight, you've been reading too much Kate Hanny. NO ONE, not the airlines, and most assuredly the passengers, wants someone to die on their flight.

I think the airlines handled the situation as best they could. You admit the staff did everything possible to deal with your situation, but they still had to follow the advice of the medical personnel. The alternative was a gamble. Ignore the advice, and HOPE granny doesn't become even more ill in flight. I wouldn't gamble my grandmother's life like that. There's always other flights. Only one granny.
So your position is the airline cared more about the grandmother then the family. Your arrogance and hubris appears typical of what we found at Alaska Airlines during this trip.

Are you saying that no ill people should fly or that no ill elderly people should fly? Are you saying that Alaska Airlines is a better judge of the medical state of an elderly family member then the family itself, even when it includes a an RN travelling with the elderly person? Are you saying that Granny would have been better off going to the ER in a foreign location then returning home? Are you saying that the opinion of your customer doesn't matter? Aren't you disregarding the fact that the this old lady was pulled from the aircraft, held for two hours, flown to Seattle where she incurred additional delays due to baggage claim issues, and still was able to be driven for 2.5 hours to her home where she received medical attention.

What I learned from this trip is this. The sky's are indeed unfriendly. Alaska Airlines is unaccountable for their decisions. Passengers are treated like little children or imbeciles who do not know what is best for them. Customer Service is bad. I have been wondering if Alaska Airlines is paying a spiff to every employee of gives cause for a ill elderly person to be removed from a flight for the purpose of preventing a medical air diversion.
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  #5  
Old Aug 24, 2010, 5:05 PM
Gromit801 Gromit801 is offline
 
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What would your complaint have been if your grandmother had become even more ill during the flight? That Alaska should then not have allowed such an obviously sick person on the flight?

The decision not to board your grandmother was made by Med-Link. They are the medical experts that the airlines (not just Alaska) listen to. Med-Link, not the airlines, and certainly not you, have the medical training. They made the decision. However, since you cannot complain to Med-Link, you are venting on Alaska for following their decision, and doing what was right.

Ill people should not fly in my opinion, unless it is a situation where medical personnel are with them. People spread the flu to people on flights, some people can die from that. You don't KNOW what would have happened to your grandmother in flight. It's not worth risking a person's life, though you seem to think otherwise.
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  #6  
Old Aug 24, 2010, 5:26 PM
jimworcs jimworcs is offline
 
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This is a tough one to call. There is indeed a sky nazi attitude developing amongst airline personnel and this makes things very difficult to evaluate. However, I think you are being a little harsh on Alaska, who, incidently have a better reputation than most for customer service.

Alaska took prudent steps. They did listen the family..and they consulted a medical expert. The medical expert did talk to your family member, the RN, and discussed the situation. The fact that they disagreed doesn't automatically suggest that Alaska or MedLink were in the wrong. (Neither does it suggest that your family member who was an RN was in the wrong, they just disagreed. Happens all the time in medicine). However, Alaska has a duty of care to their passengers and not just to your Nanny. It is legitimate for an airline to be concerned about a medical diversion, as this would seriously disrupt the plans of many of the passengers. Passengers are often very anxious to get home and cannot see any reason why they can't fly, but the effect of pressurization and lower O2 levels can have a serious effect on people who have marginal health. It is not enough for the family to say " we accept the risk" because you are also accepting the risk of diversion and/or significant discomfort to the rest of the passengers.

In this case, Alaska delayed your Nanny long enough to establish to their satisfaction that the risk was reasonable. They did their best to treat you with courtesy and professionalism and they took the trouble to consult a medical expert AND your family. And they provided accommodations. I can understand your frustration, but I think you are being overly harsh. Thank your lucky stars you were not on Delta...for them, this would have been a "revenue opportunity"...
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  #7  
Old Aug 24, 2010, 6:25 PM
joegoblue joegoblue is offline
 
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The first position is typical of what we heard from the airlines. Med-Link made the decision and no, you can't talk to them. If it were Alaska's policy that, "Ill people should not fly", and that policy was consistently enforced, then we would not have been at the airport. The problem is that I conjecture elderly ill people are being singled out and removed from flights due to concerns brought into play by their age. And that is age discrimination and elder abuse.

I have tried to separate the issue of what was done from who did it and I have tried to acknowledge that the behavior of the Alaska Airlines personnel was for the most part courteous and professional. In my opinion, it is the policy that is discriminatory. In my opinion, in this instance, this risk assessment policy targeted an ill customer for one reason alone. She was elderly. That constitutes age discrimination.

The emotion comes in when the Airline employees asserts that if the family cared about Nanny, they would have forced Nanny against her will, and against the advice of her RN daughter, to go to a local hospital.i.e. the the family are idiots to stupid to know what is best for their grandmother.

And while I believe that the antecedent for the decision to dump granny was essentially a policy driven by revenue concerns, I do thank my lucky stars that ALA did not attempt to further exploit this by fare modifications or generation of additional fees. I guess it is a testament to the current state of air travel that we should all cheer up, bad things could be worse.
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  #8  
Old Aug 24, 2010, 10:09 PM
Gromit801 Gromit801 is offline
 
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You know, it isn't just the elderly that are denied boarding because of medical reasons. Claiming age discrimination just isn't warranted. And here's the thing that is a physical reality: The elderly ARE a higher health risk. Talk to any doctor. That's not discrimination, it just is. Hell, I'm 54, an nowhere near as healthy as I was 30 years ago.

Accept that what happened was in EVERYONE'S best interest. I suppose you could always charter a flight, and never worry about airline travel again.
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  #9  
Old Aug 25, 2010, 12:12 AM
joegoblue joegoblue is offline
 
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Well, it was not in Grannies best interest. I believe that if the airlines can be compelled to honestly share the data, that data will show that ill elderly are booted off flights a a disproportionate rate. The data would, in my opinion, support a claim of age discrimination. As to your point regarding the elderly being at a higher health risk, if the airlines can prevent the elderly from flying, surely the insurance industry can deny them health care for the same reasons. You will 74 before you know it. Be careful, lest you find yourself hoisted on your own petard!
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  #10  
Old Aug 25, 2010, 12:34 AM
jimworcs jimworcs is offline
 
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Joe, I am not sure there is sufficient evidence from what you say to suggest that this is age related, rather than condition related. If airlines have a policy of not allowing ill people to travel, this would automatically disproportionately affect elderly people, because you are more likely to be ill when you are elderly. That is not automatically discriminatory and I can't see what evidence there is from your post to indicate that age was the predominant determining factor. It is also not true to say that MedLink would not discuss the situation with the family. They did discuss it with her daughter, the RN. They concluded she should not fly for 2 hours and once that conclusion was reached then stated that there was no further discussion merited. That is a different thing.

I am sympathetic. I do feel airlines have exploited the powers they now have, particularly since 911. There is most definitely a "sky nazi" attitude, exemplified by the infamous "AA orange juice" incident and the baby kid removed from a Continental flight for saying "bye bye plane". I am just not sure from the information provided that this is one of those incidents.
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  #11  
Old Aug 25, 2010, 2:43 AM
Butch Cassidy Slept Here Butch Cassidy Slept Here is offline
 
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For San Francisco to Seattle travel Amtrak offers service from Emeryville, Calif. (bordering Oakland) to Seattle. There is no change of trains. A special Amtrak connecting bus leaves the Ferry Building in San Francisco every day at 9:25 PM to connect with the departure from Emeryville at 10:12 PM. Baggage can be checked, at the Ferry Building, through to Seattle. Sleeping car accommodations are available from Emeryville through to Seattle.

The cost is substantially higher than air fare but it’s a plus for seniors. You can stay in your bed, if you want, for the entire trip. Also, if one is sick, and needs to go to an emergency room, it’s just a matter of leaving the train at the next stop. Unlike the plane, carrying liquid medications onto a train is no problem since there is no “3 oz” rule.
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  #12  
Old Aug 25, 2010, 11:21 PM
swordlight swordlight is offline
 
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Shared a shuttle with this gentleman to the hotel we stayed at after our experience with Alaska Air. Did not know his name but commiserated with our issues. I just happened to run across this site while researching how to file a formal complaint. I can tell you first hand that 'Joe' is an insightful intelligent person. With the luxury of a face to face he seemed stunned that a simple wheelchair request for an elderly person escalated to this level. Alaska Air has some excellent personel but unfortunatly a few power-drunk gate employees at Seatac can ruin a trip. Joe, send me a personal message with contact info, I'd like to touch base about going foreward with this.
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Old Aug 26, 2010, 12:10 AM
cortney cortney is offline
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swordlight- his complaint isnt about a wheelchair issue. its about the fact that hes upset that alaska airlines bumped the grandmother off the flight due to her health issues. hes mad cause med-link made the decision, alaska followed the decision and now hes upset with the airline for watching out for her health and well-being. we have had to bump ill people off our flights as well, and no they werent elderly, his claim that its age discrimination is crap
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Old Aug 26, 2010, 4:47 AM
Gromit801 Gromit801 is offline
 
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Swordlight, did your READ the original post?
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Old Aug 26, 2010, 6:46 AM
jimworcs jimworcs is offline
 
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Cortney,
It may well have originally escalated from a wheelchair request... here is what Joe said in the original complaint...

Quote:
Because Nanny was ill, and at times, presented as ill, we asked for early boarding and a wheelchair assist to the gate.
Gromit,
I can see nothing in swordlights post which merits your response!! What are you talking about?

Look, there is a problem with unaccounable airline employees who have been given powers that some simply don't have the intelligence or training to know how to use. This is evident from notorious cases such as the "bye bye plane" incident and the AA Orange Juice incident to name just two.

We were not there.. Joe and this other passenger were. Perhaps we are not seeing the whole picture and sequence of events. I personally don't feel that Joe has made sufficient of a case to argue that this is a "ski nazi" type incident, nor that age discrimination played any part. He is however, clearly intelligent and articulate in the way he expresses his views and is reasonable. He is capable, even when very annoyed at the airline, of recognising that staff were acting professionally (which is rare on this site).

I think when it comes down to it, this case rests on motive. If the motivation of the Alaska staff was simply the use of power and the exercise of control...or was based on a simple prejudice based on age... then this is indeed abusive. However, if it was a genuine concern about the passenger, and the airline and passenger simply took a difference view in the assessment of the risk, then I think the airline off the hook.

It will be interesting to see how this plays out... now we have a second person who was present at the incident who also appears to share Joe's perception of what happened.
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Old Aug 26, 2010, 3:07 PM
Gromit801 Gromit801 is offline
 
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Searchlight could be another member of the same family for all we know, and a vested interest in backing up the OP regardless of what happened, or could be a friend chiming in who wasn't there at all.

Could also be that Granny was still intoxicated, which airlines also look out for.

Lots of could be's. However, the airline acted entirely properly.
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Old Aug 26, 2010, 3:13 PM
Gromit801 Gromit801 is offline
 
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When a wheelchair request is made at the last minute, it will be provided, but the staff will give the person needing the assistance a closer look, in case it is a sudden illness or intoxication that warrants their attention.
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Old Jan 25, 2011, 2:18 AM
Walla Walla Sweet Walla Walla Sweet is offline
 
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Did you file an official complaint with the airline as well? If so, I'm curious how the airline responded. I was unaware of the stance regarding vomiting 2 hours before a flight... After eating something that disagreed with me this fall I had to fly Alaska. I threw up right before my flight and even spent a good portion of the flight with a airsickness bag in my lap "just in case"!
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Old Jan 26, 2011, 6:53 PM
joegoblue joegoblue is offline
 
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Originally Posted by Walla Walla Sweet View Post
Did you file an official complaint with the airline as well? If so, I'm curious how the airline responded. I was unaware of the stance regarding vomiting 2 hours before a flight... After eating something that disagreed with me this fall I had to fly Alaska. I threw up right before my flight and even spent a good portion of the flight with a airsickness bag in my lap "just in case"!
I did. The airline response was a justification of their decision. AA also claimed that they made accommodations upon our arrival at Sea-Tac which were not made. After a fight, we got an overnight stay in a hotel accommodation because our delayed arrival caused us to miss the last shuttle to our car, located 60 miles away in a park n ride.

I have come to believe that the gate agent receives some incentive for a medical bump upheld by med-link. Perhaps a bonus or an "attaboy" letter. The fact is that there are no specific rules. There is no policy in place. The gate agent makes the decision, and if med-link concurs, your off the flight.

I still fly Alaska. But if I have a choice, it's Jet Blue, or Southwest. Unfortunately Alaska Airlines has joined the cabal who treat their customers like self loading cargo.
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Old Jan 26, 2011, 11:05 PM
jimworcs jimworcs is offline
 
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Why would any airline offer incentives to bump someone off a flight for medical reasons? The airlines have to pay for Med-Link by the way... I think that is a conspiracy theory too far...
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  #21  
Old Jan 27, 2011, 11:07 AM
joegoblue joegoblue is offline
 
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You might be right. But AA told us that "flight diversion due to medical emergency" is a major cost and justified their actions on that basis. I don't find it entirely implausible that AA would provide an incentive to a gate manager who claimed to act to prevent an "in flight" emergency.

Med-link just rubber stamped the gate agents action. There was no medical assessment, no check for fever, no check of vitals, just the god like decision of the agent. The gate agent makes the decision, med-link rubber stamps it. Med-link is just a CYA for AA.

AA's actions spoke for itself. All of our family, our friends, their friends, and any one who will listen, gets AA's message. Customer care? We don't care. We don't have to.
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