No aisle chair at the inn

Last month, I arrived in Denver on a flight and no aisle chair appeared. We waited. No aisle chair. The crew left, and the new crew came on. At first the new crew thought I was a pre-board who was going to be departing with them, and offered to make sure my wheelchair (“Is that your wheelchair out on the jetway?”) got stowed properly.

Once we straightened out that I was trying to leave the plane, we waited. And waited. And finally (after more than half an hour) an aisle chair turned up. The purser was livid, the aisle chair attendents were two tiny little girls who didn’t even try to do their job, and the purser wound up doing the transfer, the pushing, and (once I was in my own chair) pushing me all the way up the jetway (“No offense, but the sooner I get you out of here, the sooner my passengers can board”). The glare of the assembled (delayed) multitudes at the gate as I emerged from the jetway was intense.

I complained to United. Six weeks later I got this reponse:

Dear Ms. Complaining Person:

Thank you for contacting us about your January 11 travel and customer service experiences. On behalf of United Airlines, I apologize for the dissatisfaction you have expressed in that wheelchair service was not provided as expected when you arrived in Denver on Flight 812. I appreciate the opportunity to respond to your concerns and I am sorry for the delay in getting back to you.

All of us at United are committed to making air travel as hassle-free as possible and to doing our very best when it comes to requests for special assistance. We fully intend to have the proper equipment available in order to provide prompt assistance for our customers with special needs. During busy travel periods or irregular operations we may prioritize wheelchair service requests to best meet the distinct needs of each customer. Nonetheless, the wait time you report is not acceptable to you or United. I have forwarded a copy of your e-mail to our Denver Customer Service managers for their internal review and follow up with our wheelchair service vendor to ensure that our service programs are best meeting our customers’ needs and expectations. Your feedback will make a difference.

That said, in reviewing our records I notice that an attendant and wheelchair were pre-arranged to assist you with distances within the terminal. When planning future travel, please know that we offer three levels of wheelchair assistance: passenger can ascend/descend stairs (needs assistance with distances within the terminal); passenger cannot ascend/descend stairs (needs assistance onto/off of aircraft); and passenger is completely immobile (needs assistance into/out of aircraft seat). Even though our employees are trained to respond to day-of-travel requests in the same manner as those that are pre-arranged, it does help us to better plan our manpower and equipment to keep service delays to a minimum. Please help us to help you and advise your travel agent or United Reservations representative of your specific level of ability so we may arrange for the services you need to travel safely and comfortably. You may also make the appropriate selections when booking on-line at by selecting “Special Requests”.

Ms. Complaining Person, your safe, pleasant and dependable travel matters to us. To encourage you to travel with us and to demonstrate our commitment to our customers with special needs, we would like to extend a gesture of good will. I am providing an electronic travel certificate and “Tips for Travel” information that I hope will allow us an early opportunity to serve you again. Your business and satisfaction are important to United.


Person Who Doesn’t Read Very Carefully
Customer Relations

To which I responded:

Dear Ms. Customer Relations Person Who Doesn’t Read Very Carefully:

Thank you for your response to my January 11 complaint.

First, I would like to point out that I do not require a wheelchair (I have my own), an attendent, or assistance with distances within the terminal (I am perfectly capable of propelling myself for kilometers). I require an aisle chair to board and de-board the aircraft.

You ask that I notify United of my needs. My corporate travel agent provides United with this information (SSR WCHC) for every business reservation. My United Mileage Plus profile has this information. Furthermore, I confirm a request for an aisle chair when checking in if I am able to find a human being who will speak to me.

You say that my record shows that assistance was pre-arranged. Therefore “day-of-travel requests” are irrelevant to my complaint, and the only remaining concern is that despite the pre-arrangement (confirmed by your own records) no assistance was available.

Your response implies that the onus is on me to somehow better inform United of my needs. I have already done everything United has requested, so the ball is in your court.




  1. KK

    Apparently, your “distinct need” is that you need a wheelchair super late. ;>P What an ass-kissing yet vacuous and completely unhelpful letter they wrote you. I like your response. It says “f**k you very much” in a very courteous, succinct way.

  2. Elizabeth McClung

    I am sorry that FOR ONCE there wasn’t a large corp giving a graven apology since that letter is so similar to the ones I have recieved so many times (my brother, a VP at Prudential, uses company stationary to complain and gets free tickets – but of course all complaints are treated with equal respect).

    I do not know how they find people who are trained to somehow turn the onus back on you for what to even passing strangers is an obvious screw up on thier part – but there seem so many around – great response, and good luck on getting satisfaction.

    The post reminded me of a recent converstation with a customer service representative about serveral public transit buses leaving me in the rain to avoid running late – the representative claimed that there was no way I could know “for certain” as I never entered the buses (because the ramp was never lowered) if the spaces were not already full (except that the large windows show everyone who is on the bus to a person sitting in the rain watching with intent desperation). So, my fault!

  3. Connie

    Gee, I wonder if you were at the same airport at the same time my husband was. If so, perhaps the wheelchair meant for you is the one that Steve was insisting he didn’t need. “I’m blind” he said. “I walk with a guide dog. We’ll follow you. I don’t need a wheelchair.” It was company policy he was told. “I can’t help you unless and until you sit in this chair.”
    Foolish man. I can’t help but wonder if he still has his job.

  4. Kim & Sophie

    I’ve had my own share of “problems” with “aisle chair issues”. On a trip to Miami I sat there in the very first row of seats waiting for what seemed like decades for an aisle chair to show up. The flight attendant was getting very annoyed at me and asked more than once if I could “just walk off the plane” if my fiance helped! We explained to her that I am a quad and this was not possible. After waiting forever, the people finally came with the aisle chair and started talking very loudly to me in spanish. I could tell they were very annoyed and in a huge hurry and they were dragging on me trying to pull me onto the aisle chair! I explained that when my fiance came back onto the plane (in a few minutes) he would move me. He was busy putting my cushion on my wheelchair (which was delayed being brought to the gate), and hooking my guide dog’s leash onto my chair. (I’m also blind.) I was so stressed and didn’t have a clue as to what they were saying to me! The people at the airport in Atlanta had even told the people there that I was on that flight and that I did need an aisle chair!

    On the way back from Miami, we had similar problems! We got to the gate early, and even though they were told in advance (as in when the tickets were booked and again when we arrived at the airport and when we got to the boarding counter) no aisle chair arrived. We waited until everyone had boarded and once they had we were still waiting a really long time for the aisle chair! When they finally arrived at the gate they were in the biggest rush to try to get me onto the plane that they didn’t even want to strap me to the aisle chair! I have no balance whatsoever! After Julian stood in front of the aisle chair and wouldnt let them move until I was securely strapped in the proceeded to drag me very forcefully down an aisle full of people’s elbows and arms. (It’s a good thing we were flying first class!) The people around us were annoyed because we “held up” the plane! When we did exactly what we were suppose to! I swear it’s the absolutely worst airport I have even been in. One of the workers there almost made me tip over backwards and almost got my guide dog’s leash stuck in the elevator door too! As in me being outside the elevator and my guide dog being inside and the doors closing on the leash while I was on my back on the floor! She yelled something in Spanish about not wanting us there hoping Julian wouldn’t know what she said! It was all just horrible!


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