Paralyzed man sues Delta for making him crawl off plane

By Kristen Butler,
An airport terminal chair marked for disabled access. (CC/Piotrus)
An airport terminal chair marked for disabled access. (CC/Piotrus)

Baraka Kanaan is suing Delta Airlines after he was forced to crawl down the aisle of his plane, down the stairs, and across the tarmac to his wheelchair with no assistance.

A car accident in 2000 left Kanaan's legs partially paralyzed, and he relies on a wheelchair to move about.


Delta had assured Kanaan weeks earlier that his disability would be accommodated, but then his flight departing Hawaii was cancelled due to weather, and he booked a flight for the next day.

Upon his arrival in Nantucket, Massachusetts, the complaint alleges Delta had none of the equipment -- an aisle chair and a lift -- to help Kanaan off the plane.

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When he asked what his options were, a flight attendant said, "I don't know, but we can't get you off the plane," according to the complaint.

In his best suit, Kanaan then had to "[crawl] hand over hand through the main cabin and down a narrow flight of stairs and across the tarmac to his wheelchair," which caused "great physical and emotional suffering."

On the return trip to Hawaii, equipment was still unavailable and Kanaan was astonished to have to repeat the procedure. This time, the complaint states, the airline offered to place cardboard beneath Kanaan "so that his clothes wouldn't get dirty."


Kanaan states that a lift was visible at the next gate during the first incident, but that Delta employees made no move to borrow it from another airline.

When Kanaan complained to the airline, they offered him a $100 voucher and 25,000 SkyMiles, but he refused to accept, and says he doesn't trust the airline to accommodate him. He is seeking compensation and damages to be determined at trial.

In 2008, a passenger with muscular dystrophy complained of a similar experience, having been forced to crawl off of two Delta flights, though she had been unsure whether it was the fault of the airline or the airports.

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Delta has not commented on the case specifically, but reiterated the airline's commitment to serving passengers with disabilities.

"Our agents and attendants are always available to help our customers before boarding, in the air and at the destination airport. It is Delta’s policy to fully comply with all applicable rules and regulations governing accessibility for customers with disabilities. This includes providing assistance during the boarding and deplaning process, such as providing timely wheelchair assistance, mechanized lifts, and ramps when needed. We take the allegations that this customer has made in his lawsuit very seriously."


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