Man in Wheelchair Called 'Too Disabled' to Fly

Motivational speaker Johnnie Tuitel was kicked off a US Airways flight.

ByScott Mayerowitz
October 18, 2010, 4:05 PM

Oct. 19, 2010— -- A wheelchair-bound businessman was kicked off a flight last month because the airline's crew deemed him too disabled to fly.

Motivational speaker Johnnie Tuitel was flying from Palm Beach, Fla. to Kansas City, Mo., to speak at a conference but never made it there, after a US Airways flight attendant had concerns about his safety in case of an emergency.

Tuitel, who frequently flies around the country for work -- he has logged more than 500,000 miles over the years -- said he has never been removed from a flight and never had a problem traveling on his own.

"I know my needs," Tuitel, 47, told ABC News. "Nobody asked me what my abilities were, nobody asked me what my needs where, they basically made the decision on my behalf without consulting me."

Tuitel, who has cerebral palsy, has used a wheelchair his entire life. He was helped onto the Sept. 23 flight by the airline's staff. A few minutes later, an airline manager approached him and said they needed to chat. The manager explained that Tuitel was "too disabled to fly without someone else with him" and that the airline was going to escort him off the plane, according to Tuitel.

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Tuitel said he first thought the airline was telling him something was wrong with his wife or three kids. When he realized what the issue was, he said he was "stunned and embarrassed."

Besides flying across the country to give motivational speeches, Tuitel drives his own vehicle from his wheelchair and says he is very independent. A resident of East Grand Rapids, Mich., he is also a children's author, writing the "Gun Lake Adventure" series.

Tuitel eventually arrived in Kansas City on a Delta flight but ended up missing his speaking engagement.

US Airways said the decision to deplane Tuitel was because of safety concerns.

"We just felt it wasn't safe for him to fly that day, unassisted," said spokesman Todd Lehmacher. "Our number-one priority, of course, is safety. We transport 80 million passengers a year. The crew just felt it wasn't safe for him to fly."

US Airways Tells Man He's 'Too Disabled' To Fly

Lehmacher wasn't able to say how frequently people with disabilities are not allowed to fly, and said he was not sure if the airline plans to refund Tuitel. The airline's customer service team has been working with him and the airline says it has made Tuitel an offer to work with them as a consultant on disability issues.

Tuitel said he is considering the offer.

"I'm not mad at anybody," he said. "It's not the flight attendant's fault. She just thought she was doing her job. She made a mistake."

The incident happened nearly a month ago, but Tuitel didn't publically speak about it until Friday when he issued a press release.

So why the big wait?

"I had to digest this. I was angry. I never do anything when I'm angry," he said. "I need to wait and think about it."

Just yesterday, Tuitel said, he flew on another airline's regional jet -- a lot smaller than the US Airways plane -- and had no problems.

Ultimately, Tuitel said he was pleased that US Airways wants to hear what he has to say and seems to want to make changes.

"I'm very happy that in the end US Airways is being proactive and wants to work on the situation with me," he said. "It makes you feel good about the fact that people can make a mistake and are willing to try and rectify it."

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