May 12, 2011 -- The terminal breast cancer patient deemed too frail to fly by Korean Airlines earlier this week was finally granted passage back to her ancestral Korea by Delta Airlines. Crystal Kim and her daughter, Mimi Kim, will be on the 1:50 p.m. flight Seattle-Tacoma International Airport to Seoul today, the airline confirmed.
"Breast cancer is a cause that is very near and dear to our hearts at Delta," said airline spokeswoman Susan Elliott. "We were just happy to be able to help."
Diagnosed with advanced stage 4 breast cancer, Crystal Kim's dying wish was to live out her final days in the country of her birth, Korea. But when she showed up with her daughter, Mimi Kim, who had booked the flight for last Sunday -- Mother's Day -- the airline stopped the pair at the gate, noting Kim's frailty.
Despite a doctor's note deeming Crystal Kim fit to fly, Korean Air turned the pair away, saying it needed more medical information, said Korean Air spokeswoman Penny Pfaelzer. When Mimi Kim returned the next day with additional medical documentation about her mother's condition, the airline consulted with its own medical professionals and concluded Tuesday that Crystal Kim was not up for the 11-plus hour flight, Pfaelzer said.
"It's absolutely ludicrous, heartless and unbelievable," Mimi Kim told local Seattle news station KING-TV Tuesday after the second and final refusal. "Her vitals are normal. ... She is fit for travel."
Doctors consulted by Korean Air did not examine Kim, Pfaelzer said, but they examined the paperwork provided by Kim's doctor. Citing privacy reasons, Pfaelzer said the airline could not disclose the reason for it denying Kim passage, or discuss details of her health.
Korean Air, which paid for Mimi and Crystal Kim's overnight lodging while it tried to determine whether Kim was fit to fly, will refund their tickets in full today.
As with other international airlines, including Delta, Korean Air follows the guidelines of the International Air Transport Association, which recommends that passengers with terminal illnesses, such as advanced stage cancer, should have their fitness for flight evaluated by airline medical staff if there's a question as to whether they can make the journey.
"These guidelines are for the safety of all passengers," said Anthony Concil, spokesman for the IATA, though he emphasized the guidelines were merely recommendations, not rules.
"Different carriers make their judgment calls for different reasons. Delta's policies say that if a passenger has a doctor's note saying that they are able to fly, we generally allow them to fly," said Elliott. "This is something our employees felt was the right thing to do."