Airline officials are investigating a miscommunication after an 88-year-old cancer patient claims he was left on a Southwest Airlines plane in Chicago Wednesday while waiting for a wheelchair.
Ray Batson, of Atlanta, had traveled to Louisville, Kentucky, to visit his family after having finished several rounds of radiation treatment for cancer.
Batson, who has Parkinson’s disease and suffers from myoclonic seizures, said he was flying from Louisville to Atlanta on a connecting flight that stopped in Chicago.
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His daughter, Jennie Weeks, said she made sure to tell airline personnel in Louisville that her father would need wheelchair assistance when he arrived in Chicago because his walker needed to be checked.
Batson said he was told that he would need to wait on the plane after landing and someone would bring him a wheelchair.
Batson said he sat on the plane for several minutes after passengers and crew members deplaned but no one came to help him.
“They forgot me and there was no way I could contact them,” he said. "I finally had to get up, get my little handbag and struggled and got almost to the door of the plane. I had to walk up the aisle dragging my handbag that I took on.”
He walked through nearly 12 rows before he managed to get the attention of a flight attendant, he said. Batson was eventually put onto a wheelchair and someone wheeled him to the gate for his connecting flight. Some time later, Batson said he learned he had missed his connecting flight to Atlanta.
“[The employee] looked and he said 'They sent you to the wrong gate,'” Batson said. “I missed my flight and there I was in bad shape.”
Batson said due to the incident, he had missed his medications and had not been able to use the bathroom for several hours.
Southwest Airlines said they are researching where the "breakdown in communication" happened regarding Batson's wheelchair service, but said preliminary reports do not indicate that he was alone on the aircraft "for any amount of time."
"Upon arrival into Chicago, the Customer approached the flight crew after several minutes and requested wheelchair assistance for deplaning," the airline said. "When the wheelchair did not arrive promptly, the flight attendant escorted the passenger off the plane and into the gate area for assistance.
"Once in the gate area, he (sic) passenger was approached by a Southwest gate agent who while assisting the passenger. (sic) realized he had missed his original departure. Our agent promptly worked to get the Customer confirmed on the next departure, transported the Customer to the new departure gate and bought him dinner while he waited for his flight.
"This Customer did not receive the level of Customer Service that we strive to deliver and for that, we send our heartfelt apology," the statement continued. "We have offered the family a gesture of goodwill for the inconvenience."
An airline spokesperson said they are replacing the value of Batson's ticket and are offering credit toward future travel.
It wasn’t the first time Batson said this has happened to him.
In March, he was scheduled to travel to Louisville for the birth of his two great-grandchildren.
He said his daughter dropped him off and an employee wheeled him into the airport and was supposed to take him to his gate.
At some point, the employee told Batson they would be back soon. But no one returned to help him.
“They caused me to miss my flight," he said.
Weeks said she filed a complaint with Southwest Airlines following the March incident and was refunded for the flight Batson missed.
Now, she said the family is filing another complaint, but they’re hoping the issue prompts awareness on the treatment of handicapped travelers.
“Our biggest goal is to try to get their attention to say they need to pay attention to senior adults just like they would a child,” Weeks said. “If somebody has got a disability you need to pay attention. Just like a child. [My father] needed assistance and they just ignored him.”
Batson said the experience left him “miserable” and “shaken up.”
“I have traveled in 35 nations of the world. I’ve had two of the worst experiences in these five months that I’ve ever had in all of my traveling,” he said. “If it happened to me there’s no telling how many others it would have happened to.”