Mother of disabled son recalls JetBlue ‘horror story’
A JetBlue flight home for a 23-year-old Barbadian mother of two turned into a virtual nightmare, as she was deemed a disruptive passenger and came close to being thrown out of the aircraft over the handling by the flight staff of a situation regarding her disabled son.
Already disappointed that a week-long stay at the Joe DiMaggio Children’s Hospital in Florida – where she had sought treatment for two-year-old Amari Powell’s cerebral palsy – had turned to naught, Mary-Anne Powell said she encountered an uncooperative and uncouth cabin crew on flight B6385 at Fort Lauderdale International Airport.
Powell got into a verbal tussle with the cabin crew because she was sitting with the disabled boy in her lap, which nearly got her in deep trouble with the airline and law enforcement in the US state.
“I had my bag on the seat because he cannot sit on the seat by himself . . . I know that bags can’t be on the seat when the plane is taking off or landing, but people were still boarding the plane, and I told her [the flight attendant] I paid for the seat and I only left my bag on the seat because people are still boarding the plane and when the plane is taking off I know that the bag has to go under the seat,” Powell told Barbados TODAY as she recalled the incident which took place on January 27, but which she made public Friday.
“When I told her that I paid for the seat she asked me if I want to be escorted off the plane,” a bewildered Powell said.
The exchange led to a 25-minute flight delay, during which a forceful cabin crew shouted at her and insisted the child was not allowed to sit in her lap because the regulations stated anyone aged two or older had to occupy a seat, she claimed.
If she refuses to comply, they told her, she would have to get off the plane.
“He [another flight attendant] told me if I don’t comply, they will be asking me to disembark the plane. I started crying because all the passengers started looking at me and it was looking like I was being disrespectful when I wasn’t. It was them that was making the issue.”
The disgruntled passenger would eventually comply, but that was not the end of her troubles, she told Barbados TODAY.
Having placed the child in the seat next to her, and having fastened his seat belt, the two-year-old “fell forward and then he got frightened”.
“I said he has cerebral palsy and you are being unreasonable . . . when he fell forward, [the flight attendant] told me pick him up and then the black woman [the other flight attendant] goes and tells me to pick him up and stop being ignorant,” an outraged Powell said.
Having witnessed the child’s discomfort, the crew appeared to retreat, and all seemed settled, the mother explained, only for one crew member – who apparently had not been apprised of the boy’s condition – to report Powell as a disruptive passenger, forcing a further ten-minute delay.
“She told the captain they have an unruly passenger and that they have to ask her to disembark the plane . . . . When the flight attendants were coming back and they realized it was me, they then explained to her that the baby has cerebral palsy.
“She came to me saying that she is sorry. I said ‘I don’t want to hear any sorry because what wunna do last, wunna should have done first.’”
Powell said none of this would have happened had the check-in crew advised their colleagues aboard the aircraft of the boy’s disability.
She said she had advised the ground staff of the boy’s condition and had been assured there would be no problems.
“I notified the guy that he was disabled, but apparently he didn’t pass on the information. So that was negligence on their part. It wasn’t my fault,” she explained.
Powell told Barbados TODAY she was considering legal action against the airline, which has since sent her a written apology.
“That is not how you treat a child with disability. A child with disability should have first priority. I don’t mind if you treat me so, but not Amari,” she stressed.
JetBlue Barbados General Manager Terry Layne referred Barbados TODAY to the airline’s Manager of Corporate Communications for Latin America & Caribbean Elizabeth Ninomiya, who in an emailed response Friday evening said:
“JetBlue is committed to providing caring and courteous customer service to our customers with disabilities, and to complying with U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) regulations governing accessibility to individuals with disabilities.
She also acknowledged that a complaint had been made by a customer traveling from Fort Lauderdale to Barbados who reported that her experience failed to meet these standards.
“We are in contact with the customer in order to address her concerns. We are also reviewing the situation internally with the appropriate teams, so that we may ensure that our crewmembers deliver the high-quality service that is consistent with JetBlue’s values and DOT regulations,” the airline’s spokeswoman added.