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A Chicago-area cheerleading organization alleged Thursday that a Southwest Airlines gate agent wouldn’t let two special-needs athletes board early for a recent flight to Atlanta − and were later made fun of by Southwest employees.
“We had checked in with the desk to receive our disability boarding pass prior to lining up,” the tweet from Reign Athletics Dynasty read, according to Fox News and the International Business Times. “When lined up, all other handicapped passengers were brought out into the plane. When it was our time to get on, the man checking in tickets looked at my sister and ‘HAHA I can do that with my hand too and say I’m disabled.'”
The alleged incident occurred on Feb. 22. The Twitter account that says it’s for a special-needs competitive Chicago cheerleading programhas since made their posts private.
USA TODAY has reached out to Reign Athletics for more information.
Southwest Airlines says it has been in contact with the customers and is investigating the incident.
“We were disheartened to read the description of the experience this group encountered while traveling with us to their competition,” Southwest Airlines spokesperson Chris Mainz told USA TODAY in a statement.
“Our employees are world-famous for offering warm and friendly hospitality, and we sincerely apologize if this experience was anything less,” the statement said. “We do not tolerate rude or demeaning behavior from any of our employees, and we take these accusations very seriously.”
Employees reportedly started to laugh at the previous comments as the gate agent allowed families with children to go ahead of them in the boarding process.
“I of course, flipped out and demanded to speak to someone in charge,” the tweet continued. “When this happened, another member looked at me and said ‘Are you disabled? No. Those two are clearly faking it to get on early.'” The Twitter user said that their sister has cerebral palsy and “has medical information on her at all times due to the shunts in her brain. I had this proof with me at the time.”
The airline responded to the Twitter user: “I’m sorry that your encounter with our Agents left you doubting our commitment to Customer Service. Would you mind sending me the confirmation number for your Team and Coaches in a DM so I can get more insight into this situation.”
Of its preboarding policies for disabled passengers, Mainz said: “Regarding our policy, preboarding is available for customers who have a specific seating need to accommodate their disability and/or need assistance in boarding the aircraft or stowing an assistive device. If a customer with a disability simply needs a little extra time to board, we will permit the customer to board before family boarding, between the ‘A’ and ‘B’ groups.”
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