Disabled Woman Stranded at Denver Airport

The daughter of a 52-year-old woman with multiple scleroris is vowing never to let her fly on a commercial flight again after she was stranded at Denver International Airport for over eight hours last week.

Judy Bruce was traveling through Denver on her way to Bismarck, N.D., last Tuesday when United Express failed twice to put her on a connecting flight and then lost track of her for several hours.

When she arrived in Bismarck, daughter Tammy Hohertz said, her wet pants had been removed and her legs were only covered with a blanket.

Hohertz, a rancher in central North Dakota, said she could not afford to fly with her mother, who has flown by herself before. She was moving from Indianapolis to a new nursing home near her daughter.

Hohertz said she explained her mother’s condition to her travel agent and that Bruce’s sister explained the situation in detail when checking her in Indianapolis.

While representatives of United Airlines and United Express accepted responsibility for what happened to Bruce, they said she was never in danger. Mistakes were made by well-intended employees who did not communicate with each other, United spokeswoman Chris Nardella said.

Plane Left Without Her

When Bruce arrived in Denver at about 10:30 a.m. a security guard who works for the airline picked her up and took her to a special room for disabled passengers. He later took her to her gate a half hour before the flight.

But the guard did not tell the gate agent that Bruce was there and the plane left without her, said Doug Horn, vice president for customer service for Air Wisconsin, which operates United Express in Denver.

After the plane left, the gate agent noticed Bruce and asked her if she needed help. Bruce was confused so the woman checked her ticket and realized she had just missed the flight.

She rebooked Bruce on the next flight at 3:10 p.m., and at Bruce’s request, let her stay at the gate.

But sometime later a security guard noticed she was sitting alone and that she was disoriented. The guard took her to Travelers Assistance, a nonprofit organization that helps disabled passengers.

Petie Horton, assistant director of the group, said Bruce’s pants were wet when she was brought in. Bruce, apparently believing she was already in Bismarck, told Horton that her daughter was going to pick her up.

Volunteers changing her into a medical gown discovered Bruce’s ticket and realized she had missed her flight.

Needing Special Help?

During this time, United Express, in contact with workers in Bismarck, had begun searching for Bruce. They found her when the volunteers took Bruce to the gate to rebook her for a 7 p.m. flight.

Horn said Bruce’s family failed to tell the airline how much help she needed. Customer records show Bruce needed only a transfer from gate to gate, not special attention.

“Based on what I know now, Mrs. Bruce should never have been traveling by herself,” he said.

Under federal law, if an airline determines a passenger needs an assistant it must give the assistant a free ticket. Hohertz said she was unaware of that regulation but might have pushed the issue if she had known.