A Delta Air Lines flight attendant seemingly threatened to have a disabled passenger forcibly removed from a plane at Atlanta Hartsfield Airport by armed TSA agents because of a delay by the airline in returning the passenger’s own wheelchair to the aircraft door.
Cory Lee, a wheelchair travel expert and blogger who has explored more than 40 countries in his bespoke electric wheelchair, had just returned on a Delta flight from Santiago, Chile when Delta flight attendants and ground staff appear to try to rush him off the aircraft.
At the age of two, Cory was diagnosed with Spinal muscular atrophy, a serious genetic condition that makes the muscles weaker and progressively causes problems with movement. SMA generally gets worse over time, and people like Cory are reliant on their own wheelchairs to live a free and active life.
But after the nearly nine-hour flight from Santiago de Chile earlier this month, there was a delay in ground handlers retrieving Cory’s wheelchair from the hold of the aircraft and returning it to the aircraft door.
All the other passengers had already deplaned, and special assistance staff were standing by to help Cory, but all they could offer him was to sit in a narrow and uncomfortable aisle wheelchair while they waited for his own chair to be brought to the door.
Cory says sitting for an extended period in an aisle wheelchair can cause him sores and knowing his rights under the Air Carrier Access Act, he decided to wait in the aircraft seat while Delta found his own wheelchair.
At this point, however, a Delta flight attendant intervened and suggested the TSA would come with “their guns” to remove Cory from the plane.
“Today, this flight attendant from Delta and multiple members of the Atlanta airport staff showed that they do NOT care about passengers with disabilities or the Air Carrier Access Act to the point that I was threatened with guns to get off the plane, despite my wheelchair not being there for me,” Cory said in a caption of a video that captured the incident.
“I have had a lot of wild travel experiences across 40 countries over the past 9 years, but this one was hands-down the worst of all,” Cory continued.
“I have flown into the Atlanta airport hundreds of times & they have always brought my wheelchair to the door of the plane. I don’t know why they were so adamant about not bringing it today, but to threaten us with guns?! What in the world?!”
In the end, Cory says another member of ground staff intervened and found a way for his wheelchair to be quickly retrieved from the aircraft hold and brought to the airplane door.
It could be that airline staff attempted to rush Cory off the aircraft because the next flight on the same plane would be delayed. The impetus in this type of situation, however, is for the airline to either quickly find and retrieve the wheelchair or accept the delay due to its own failings.
During ground worker shortages over the summer, several high-profile incidents involving wheelchair users being stranded on deserted aircraft were reported, although these have largely been resolved.
In a statement, a spokesperson for Delta said “the exchange in this video does not reflect the high standard of care Delta people aspire to every day.”
“We are reviewing what occurred here and will follow up as appropriate with our people. Delta has reached out to this customer directly to hear more about what they experienced and to offer further apologies.”
Mateusz Maszczynski honed his skills as an international flight attendant at the most prominent airline in the Middle East and has been flying throughout the COVID-19 pandemic for a well-known European airline. Matt is passionate about the aviation industry and has become an expert in passenger experience and human-centric stories. Always keeping an ear close to the ground, Matt's industry insights, analysis and news coverage is frequently relied upon by some of the biggest names in journalism.