Another Continental Experience

Old Sep 14th, 2006, 09:59 PM
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Another Continental Experience

I'm looking for a reality check here. I recently flew Continental from LA to NY. I was seated in a window seat. When I reached my seat, there was a woman on the aisle who was disabled, unable to walk. She was wheeled onto the plane by the crew, so clearly the crew was aware of her condition. The passenger indicated that if I wanted to get to my seat I would need to climb over her (and the passenger in the middle seat, who was unable to clear out for me to take my seat). The flight attendants said that because the flight was oversold and every seat was occupied, I could not move elsewhere. So for the next five-plus hours, I was stuck in my seat and could only exit by literally climbing over two other passengers (and by the way, I'm 6'3").

It struck me that this was not only a comfort issue but a safety issue as well. I was the last person off the plane (and probably would have been as well in the event of an emergency). It's hard to say this without sounding somewhat insensitive, but is it too much effort for an airline to accommodate passengers with disabilities without greatly inconveniencing or risking the safety of others? In this case, the logical thing would have been for a disabled person to be in bulkhead. But Continental, as many of you know, now considers a bulkhead seat a perq for its frequent flyer program participants, and holds virtually no seats at the gate for exigencies like families with small children that want to sit together or, apparently, passengers with disabilities.

So when I got off the plane I sent an email to Continental customer service voicing my concerns. I reprint here, verbatim, the email response from Continental:

"Your comments have been received in the Customer Care Department at Continental Airlines.

I have completed a detailed report based on our comments regarding your safety concerns. I have made an inquiry of your concerns with our Inflight Policy and Procedure Department to provide us with the answer to your question. Since Continental provides public transportation Continental may not limit the number of customers with disabilities on each flight, or require a customer with a disability to sit in a specific seat, except as required by the exit seating rule. Since there were no other seats available on the flight the flight attendants did not have the option to allow you to move to another seat. However, before departure you may have asked the airport staff if you could be allowed to standby for another flight later that day.

Your concerns will be taken into consideration as we look for ways to better address the needs of the Special Needs passenger as well as their seatmate safety concerns. We welcome comments from our passengers in our commitment to provide clean, safe and reliable service to all of our passengers.

We appreciate you business and welcome the opportunity to look into this matter on your behalf.

Kind regards,

[xxx]
Customer Care Manager"

In other words, we don't accommodate you because we aren't required to by law.

My question to this board, which I have the utmost respect for, is whether I am out of line, out of touch with modern airline policies or just another disgruntled flyer with a beef.

Thanks.
underradar is offline  
Old Sep 14th, 2006, 11:06 PM
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I wonder what the situation would have been underradar if you have had some kind of a disability and could not have climbed over the disabled woman sitting in the aisle seat.

I certainly feel for people with disabilities (there but for the grace of God go I) but the situation you had to deal with IMO was terrible.
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Old Sep 14th, 2006, 11:14 PM
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That's funny. You don't give us any positive opinion options to your question, just "out of line", "out of touch", or "disgruntled".

I usually don't automatically accept the premise of the question and consider other possible optinos. For example, for your multiple choice question you might have given us one positive option that we might use as an opinion of your actions.

But I, like you, can't think of any additional optional answers to your question, except, perhaps "all of the above". But I will choose to not answer the question.

It's a big world and there are a lot of people in it. It really is necessary to make accomodations for other people.

If you have some physical conditions that make it extremely difficult, or painful, or dangerous to climb over the person then you ought not have done it. You could have gotten off the plane, volunteered for the bump since the plane was oversold and gotten a free ticket voucher and a first class seat on the next flight. Sounds like it all worked out.
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Old Sep 14th, 2006, 11:32 PM
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I think that the airline is applying the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) to its seating policies. From the wording, it appears that that the ADA (or other law or regulation) prohibits the airline from designating specific seats (i.e. the bulkhead seats) for the disabled.

The exit seating rule requires a person to be fully capable of performing the duties related to the exit, so that people who are blind, for example, can be prohibited from sitting in those seats since their blindness interferes with their ability to perform those duties.

Since he airline is prohibited by law from seating the disabled person in a specific seat or area its only option is to move the other affected passengers to an empty seat.

This time I don't believe that you can blame Continental.




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Old Sep 15th, 2006, 05:27 AM
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I avoid the window seats on long flights. I like them on short flights, but on long flights, they want the window shade down so they can show a movie--unless you are on a MD-80.
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Old Sep 15th, 2006, 09:03 AM
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I think this thread is less about Continental than about one self-centered person blind to his own insensitivity.
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Old Sep 15th, 2006, 12:44 PM
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I dont' understand why the OP felt constrained in his seat for the 5-hour trip? There was nothing preventing him from getting up and out of the seat. True, the aisle seater was physically unable to stand-up and allow the OP to pass, but that shouldn't have caused any concern. Just climb over the woman and say "Excuse me, ma'am". If she gets huffy, tell her off. I mean, really, what's the big deal. Everybody knows planes are cramped and a disabled person can't expect someone to remain seated just so they aren't bothered. As a window seater myself, I prefer being sedentary for most of the trip and try to get up when my seat mate is up. But, as the saying goes, when you gotta go, you gotta go. You do the best you can. I get the feeling the OP felt obligated to be overly sensitve to the disabled passenger and now feels some resentment.
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Old Sep 15th, 2006, 01:35 PM
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I have a friend who is disabled and has to deal with this. I have to say that he would agree with OP. He feels terrible that folks have to climb over him and he dislikes having this happen to him.

His method is to explain this to the airline and MOST times he does get the bulkhead seat. In the bulkhead row it is actually possible for him to get into the window seat from the chair. (I am not sure HOW he does this having never seen it, but he does have extraordinary arm strenght, it's just his legs that don't work!)


I read him the original post and he said if he were the disabled person he would have complained in this case as he feels he is also entitled to be treated with dignity and having strangers who are 6'3" step on you is not exactly a good feeling!
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Old Sep 15th, 2006, 06:37 PM
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Interesting variety of replies. To mrwunrfl, they didn't offer a bump once we were on the plane. They did when we were sitting at the gate but got a lot of takers (and I don't remember a first class seat being among the perqs). Frankly, it would not have occurred to me that leaving the flight was an option, and I'm not sure I would have taken it given that the next flight was 8 hours later.

If the ADA mandates this policy, then end of discussion, as far as I'm concerned. Notice, however, that Continental's customer service person did not say that.

As to the people who indicated that climbing over a passenger is not an inconvenience, I respectfully disagree. First of all, in my case, it involved climbing over two people, as the person sitting in the middle seat was pinned as well. Try doing that without really disturbing your fellow passengers. That's what made it really difficult and dangerous. Secondly, at 6'3", my mobility is hampered enough moving around in those seats (to the point where if I dropped something on the floor, it could not be retrieved until the flight was over). If I had, for instance, a back condition (which I have had in the past), I would not have been able to climb over two other people.

But again, if this were the effect of the ADA, I'd respect that.
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Old Sep 15th, 2006, 07:34 PM
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Like you, I am 6'3" and DON'T have a back problem. Of course it is an inconvenience to climb over somebody.

I'll repeat: If you have some physical conditions that make it extremely difficult, or painful, or dangerous to climb over the person then you ought not have climbed over anybody. You would have been endangering yourself and them in doing so. Apparently, you judged it wasn't dangerous, so you did it and you were right. The end.
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Old Sep 15th, 2006, 08:39 PM
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Hi, Underradar!

I just read your posting about Continental and am not shocked at all at the callous treatment you received from the flight crew.

Most US airlines, including, Continental, deliberatly tried to sabotage the ADA with respect to air travel during the Congressional hearings and deliberations.

When their efforts failed, they instituted accommodation policies solely out of resentment because their views did not prevail. They had sought an exemption from the provisions of the law.

Obviously, a commonsense approach would be to offer seating to the disabled, especially those disabled who present a clear danger to others, somewhere else in the plane where they do not endanger anyone's safety.

Continental failed to do that, and as you can read in the moronic response, are attempting to justify their actions. Essentially they deliberately endangered YOUR safety while using the ADA accommodation as a shield.

I am not sure what action you can take against the airline, but do lodge a safety related complaint with the FAA and also with your state's senator.

The issue is NOT compliance with the ADA, it is the disregard for the safety of a passenger.

What is also troubling on this board is the abundance of comments to the effect that it's your fault, that it's okay, that it's no big deal, etc.

With a cheering squad like this in the peanut gallery, no wonder the airlines are not at all reluctant to abuse passengers in any way possible.

After all, they know they can count on other passengers (like these posters who responded to you) to chime in and say it's okay.
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Old Sep 15th, 2006, 11:51 PM
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One of the reasons why a disabled person is seated on an aisle seat on a flight is due to the fact that if there was an emergency, it would be easier to move the person via a blanket carry or fireman's carry to the nearest exit.It also makes it easier for a transfer using the plane's foldup wheelchair to get them to the lavatories.
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Old Sep 16th, 2006, 05:43 AM
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underradar

I feel very sorry for the disabled person and I am sure they are very uncomfortable with the situation however that does not make it o.k. to tell another person you must climb over not one but two people to enter or exit. I do suffer with a bad back that would cause me to refuse such a request. It sounds like my rights would be zero in such a situation as you described.

Did the person in the middle seat have anything to say about the situation?

I do believe that you and the person in the middle seat would have been at a serious disadvantage in the event of an emergency.

Sandy
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Old Sep 16th, 2006, 08:08 AM
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I experienced a similar situation last year on US Airways that was handled a bit differently by the gate staff.

I had a seat assignment for a window seat near the front of economy and in a row adjacent to the rest of my family. Before boarding began, I was paged to the podium and informed that the man in the aisle seat (in a halo brace) would be immobile and to get in and out, I'd have to climb over him and his traveling companion. The agent told me I could keep the seat, but she recommended that I accept a different seat and I agreed. This was right after Thanksgiving, so the flight was very full; the agent was pretty sure she could accommodate me, but it would be after all other passengers had boarded and there was a risk I'd end up on another flight.

I ended up with a different window seat that was equally confining (way in the back next to a 6'8" man in the middle seat and behind a teenaged girl who reclined her seat all the way and then spent most of the flight leaning forward looking out the window). But, I thought the gate staff handled this situation well.
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Old Sep 17th, 2006, 08:27 PM
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Interesting to see the variety of responses to my post. The ones that I found most interesting and informative were those that applied some logic to the seating situation (special mention, of course, to clevelandbrown for insightful observations).

I can understand the theory, expressed by dutyfree, that giving a disabled person an aisle seat has a safety-oriented rationale. If that were the case, then I'm not sure how much it would have helped to have the disabled person in the 19th row of a 26-row plane, several rows back from the exit rows. Bulkhead would have made more sense here. But in any case, I don't think that anyone at Continental even thought about that in making seat assignments. Certainly, it didn't even occur to either of the flight attendants I spoke to about it, and I don't see any mention of such a policy in the response from Continental's customer service. They don't build in the kind of flexibility that ms_go described in her US Airways experience. Continental agents have told me in the past that they hold no seating assignments at the gate, and I have no reason to doubt them.

At the end of the day, if it were purely a comfort issue, I'd probably put it behind me as just another facet of airline travel. Frankly, the safety issue didn't occur to me until the flight attendants began to review the safety procedures, at which point we were taxi-ing. But it bothered me then and it still bothers me now, not because of some subconscious resentment caused by overcompensating to be nice to a disabled person, but because I felt that my safety was compromised unnecessarily. There are specially designated seats for the disabled on every other form of public transportation I can think of, and it seems to me to make sense both from the standpoint of the person with the disability and those around that person.

In any case, I appreciate all the feedback (positive or negative). I'll go back to posting about ice cream or Italy or other topics of similar import. But I will also follow easywalker's advice and follow up with the FAA.
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Old Sep 17th, 2006, 10:36 PM
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Underradar - I think you got stuck by circumstances. Had the flight not been oversold, you very likely would have been offered another seat.

I also think that, if, when you were told about having to climb over the passengers, you had indicated that you had an injury/disability that made it impossible to climb over the passengers (rather than it just being an inconvenience), they likely would have tried to find another passenger to switch seats with you.

I think the only solution would be to redesign airplanes - something that is really overdo anyway.
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Old Sep 17th, 2006, 11:46 PM
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Fair enough, underradar, you couldn't have assumed that you would get only positive feedback. A post about ice cream might be less controversial while raising equally as important issues. I don't see it as much of a safety issue, really. But you do, so go for it: contact the FAA, contact your congressperson, contact the congresspeople for Houston and Newark (the CO hubs, where their constituents fly CO and actually include CO), maybe the NTSB could help. I am serious here, that you should do this if you think it will do some good. You could also decide to fly US instead of CO.

The 737 that you apparently were flying on has exit rows at the rear of the plane and the crew probably hangs out at the galleys back there. So the location was a relatively good one, better than near the mid-cabin exits.
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Old Sep 18th, 2006, 06:41 AM
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Here's a non-political, non-personal reply, from me.

First, this has nothing to do with Continental. In this case, there's simply nothing anybody or the airline can do. They cannot force the person into another seat, and there's no empty seat to reaccomodate you on the same flight. You'll get the same result on any US airline.

But the real alternative is this, if you find your safety has been compromised. You can ask to take another flight, and CO will put you on a later one. They can't guarantee which flight, and I don't think they need to put you in a hotel or give you meals, but if there's a later flight with seats, you can be rebooked without a fee.
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Old Sep 18th, 2006, 07:03 AM
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Why couldn't the FA's put the arm rests up, and ask the disabled person if they could possibly scoot over to the window seat? Many disabled folks routinely do amazing things, getting themselves moved without use of their legs...it would have been worth a try. That way only one person's safety would have been compromised, not three.
Just a thought.
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Old Sep 18th, 2006, 12:50 PM
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I cannot believe that an airline expected you to climb over other passengers to get out/in your seat. Especially when there was another solution (bulkhead seat). I also cannot believe that most of the posters here think it's okay. That's just crazy!

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