United Airlines is apologizing after forcing a paraplegic man to scoot off an airplane while on his honeymoon — twice.
After getting married in November, high school football coach Tyler Schilhabel and his wife, Courtney, were finally heading to their honeymoon in the Dominican Republic last week but, thanks to United, it was far from a dream getaway.
After United failed to provide a wheelchair, Tyler, who is paralyzed from the chest down, says he was forced to scoot down the aisle of the plane on his butt, not once but twice.
"It's frustrating, it's humiliating, it's exhausting," Schilhabel told the Bakersfield Californian. "I started to feel physically sick. It was just an unpleasant experience all around."
Once he was back home, Schilhabel posted about the experience on Facebook.
His full Facebook post reads:
"So a little rant about United Airlines.... Courtney and I flew to the Dominican Republic for our honeymoon, when we landed they didn't have an aisle chair (my normal chair is too wide to take on the plane) or ramp/elevator to help me off the plane, only a flight of stairs. So I had to scoot down the aisle on my butt to get off and then hop down step by step to get to my chair. THEN today on our way home for our connecting flight in Chicago they didn't have an aisle chair again except this time we were in the very back of the plane so I once again had to scoot all the way down on my butt. I know everybody has travel horror stories, but this was completely ridiculous. I've flown United my last 6 flights and each time they've either been late with getting an aisle chair to me or didn't have one at all. Needless to say I won't be using their business anytime soon."
When Schilhabel was 16 he was left paralyzed after an ATV accident. He now works as the head coach of the Independence High School football team and uses a wheelchair to get around.
Tyler's regular wheelchair is too wide for the aisle of an airplane.
"I always make it a point to let them know I need an aisle chair," Schilhabel said. "I show up at least three hours early to make sure it is taken care of. I did all my due diligence to make sure I covered myself."
But United still didn't have a chair available for Tyler. Flying out of Los Angeles, Tyler and Courtney were headed to Punta Cana in the Dominican Republic with a connecting flight in Chicago.
That's where the trouble started, says Schilhabel.
"I've flown with a number of different airlines and either they have the aisle chair waiting there when we land or its there within five minutes."
Schilhabel says he had just 50 minutes to make his connecting flight in Chicago and, even with a chair, that wasn't much time.
When deplaning using an aisle chair, Tyler says he has to wait until all other passengers are off the plane. After waiting 20 minutes for the other passengers to deplane, Schilhabel says he waited another 15 minutes for his chair. Eventually a flight attendant carried him off the plane to his regular wheelchair.
"Luckily, we were able to make it to our connecting flight," Tyler said, but his troubles didn't end there.
When they landed in Punta Cana, it was the same problem all over again. This time Tyler had to scoot down the aisle on his rear, and there were only portable stairs available to exit the plane. Courtney had to help him "hop down step by step," injuring her wrist while doing so.
"We spent the first half-day of our honeymoon laying around and trying to recover from that debacle," said Tyler.
Unfortunately, the trip home was just as bad.
On their return flight, an elevator lifted Schilhabel onto the plane, but when they landed in Chicago there was still no aisle wheelchair available.
Tyler waited 45 minutes before he was forced to scoot 31 rows down the plane's aisle.
"I got really dizzy. I was pretty close to passing out. When you exert a lot of energy, at times that can happen."
After the Bakersfield Californian article, United released a statement addressing the incident:
"We are proud to operate an airline that doesn't just include people with disabilities but welcomes them as customers, Untied told the Californian 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."
Now back home, Schilhabel says United offered to refund his tickets and give him $1000 in travel vouchers. According to Tyler, they also asked him to remove his Facebook post, but he says the offer wasn't worth the trouble.
"It's not worth it to take their vouchers and run the risk of going through all of this again," Tyler said. "It's more about letting people know that this is unacceptable.
And it seems like the word is getting out there.
Schilhabel says he's glad United offed an apology but does not believe what happened to him was an isolated incident.
"To me, it's hard to believe that they are truly sympathetic when it seems like it's more than a common occurrence."
After he posted about his experience with United, Tyler says others in the disabled community reached out to him with similar stories.
"People need to know." Tyler says. "And (United) needs to be held responsible for the frankly terrible service that they offered."