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SkyWest, Delta Airlines Under Fire for Refusing Seat Change for Autistic Passenger

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Airlines SkyWest and Delta came under fire after a passenger said a flight crew refused to accommodate a seat change for his brother on the spectrum and chose to force the entire plane to wait three hours for a new crew before taking off instead.

Ayo Isola shared a post on Facebook Sunday outlining the experience he and his family had on the final leg of their journey while returning from Europe. Isola said he, his mother, sister and brother, who is on the spectrum and nonverbal, were assigned separate seats on a Delta Airlines connecting flight operated by SkyWest Airlines from Detroit to Houston.

According to Isola’s Facebook post, however, the onboard crew took issue with a simple seat change to accommodate the needs of his autistic brother.

“For [my brother’s] safety and the safety of those around him, it is important that he sit with a family member on flights,” Isola wrote, adding:

We boarded the plane and easily found a nice woman sitting one row away who was willing to switch seats. Problem solved. The flight attendant became upset and demanded my brother move back to his original seat. We explained to her that he has special needs and that this small accommodation would be necessary, however she continued to raise hell about passengers switching seats.

After delaying the flight 20 minutes, Isola said the flight attendant contacted a supervisor who saw no issue with the seat change for Isola’s family. He said the supervisor “explains to the flight attendant that this happens often on flights.” Still, Isola said the flight attendant wasn’t satisfied and she delayed the plane’s departure again by talking with the pilot, saying Isola’s brother was a “safety hazard.”

Instead of supporting Isola’s family, as many passengers on board were doing, Isola said the pilot forced all 75 passengers to deplane. When airport security at the gate told the pilot and flight crew there was no safety risk and to continue the flight, they refused, Isola said, and left the terminal. Passengers waited an additional three hours until SkyWest brought in a new crew to complete the flight.

Isola demanded an answer and action from Delta in his Facebook post and said he is filing a formal complaint with the airline. According to NBC News, the crew and pilots on Isola’s flight are grounded while the airline conducts an investigation.

“Delta apologizes to customers on flight 3596, operated by Delta Connection partner SkyWest, for any inconvenience following an onboard event,” a Delta statement said. “We are currently reviewing the details have reached out to better understand what happened.”

“We are investigating reports regarding SkyWest flight 3596, operating as Delta Connection from Detroit to Houston, Texas, which experienced a delay boarding as a result of an issue regarding customer seat assignments,” a separate SkyWest statement reads. “We are committed to providing exceptional onboard service to all of our customers and are working with our partner Delta to reach out to the customers.”

Isola said on Facebook he wants the crew who discriminated against his brother to no longer fly. He said he also hopes airline staff receives sensitivity training on working with customers with disabilities to prevent similar issues in the future.

“Im posting this story to highlight the ignorance, bigotry, and blatant discrimination that unfortunately exists in people today,” Isola said on Facebook. He continued:

It is not right to treat people with special needs as if they are unworthy of your time or effort. Especially when a simple accommodation or a tiny bit of compassion can be the difference between them being successful or unsuccessful in life. They are people first, defined by all of their abilities and not condemned by their disabilities. Respect is all I am asking for here.

The Mighty reached out to Ayo Isola, SkyWest Airlines and Delta Airlines for comment and has yet to hear back.

Header image via SkyWest Airlines

Originally published: August 20, 2019
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