Horizon Air President Glenn Johnson apologized to a customer on Facebook today after a Facebook firestorm arose over alleged poor treatment of a disabled man's attempt to board a flight in Redmond and visit his daughter last Friday.
Bend event producer Cameron Clark sparked the furor with a Facebook posting Friday, calling airline employees' lack of care for the man "the worst of humanity."
The airline noted he flew to see his daughter on Saturday.
“First and foremost, we’ve determined that we could and should have handled this better and I apologize to our passenger on behalf of all of us at Horizon Air and Alaska Airlines,” Johnson wrote in his posting (which you can read at https://www.facebook.com/notes/alaska-airlines/a-message-from-horizon-air-president-glenn-johnson/10150964714936073
"This experience has reminded us of the importance of assisting passengers with disabilities and making sure every one of them receives the special care they may need," he added. "The information we’ve gathered during our review will certainly improve our efforts going forward.”
As part of its review of the incident, Alaska Airlines refunded the passenger’s initial ticket, provided a complimentary round-trip flight for his trip and offered a second round-trip ticket for him to visit his daughter again at a later date. Horizon Air operates regional flights on behalf of Alaska Airlines.
“We’ve worked with a variety of disability organizations for years, which has helped us improve our service for travelers with disabilities,” said Ray Prentice, Alaska Airlines’ director of customer advocacy. “This incident provides another learning opportunity for our employees as well as for travelers with disabilities.”
Alaska and Horizon have partnered with Open Doors Organization, an independent disability advocacy group, to review employees’ handling of the situation and suggest improvements in the airlines’ disability, awareness and sensitivity training.
Eric Lipp, Open Doors Organization’s executive director, advises passengers with a disability who are traveling to:
• Self-disclose to the airline any assistance you may need before you
arrive at the airport. This could include an escort or wheelchair
assistance through security, to the gate, and while boarding and
exiting the plane.
• Ask the airline if you prefer to have a personal assistant escort you
to the gate. Most airlines will issue passes to personal assistants to
help passengers with disabilities get to or from the gate area.
• Plan ahead and arrive at the airport at least 90 minutes before your
flight departs, which allows time to check luggage, obtain wheelchair
services, get through security and board the flight.
As a long-time, well-known Bend event producer, Clark is well-versed in how to get things done, large and small, and what it takes to please your customers. He also can get mighty steamed at examples of the opposite – and in today’s fast-moving world of social media, a detailed, anger-inducing Facebook post about witnessing a prime case of alleged poor service can ignite a firestorm.
And it did.
Nowadays, a fast-spreading story pointing to what Clark called “the worst of humanity” can also move a big company, like an airline, to fast action -- even on a weekend. (After all, no company wants to be the target of another viral campaign or YouTube video like the infamous “United Breaks Guitars.”)
The latest example of such an online explosion of righteous anger transpired after Clark fired off a note to his hundreds of Facebook friends on Friday, detailing what he considered very shoddy service by Alaska Airlines representatives at Redmond Airport who, he said, “ignored” and failed to properly assist a disabled, physically challenged man and his companion who were trying to get him on a flight to Bellingham, Wash. to see his daughter, perhaps for the last time.
The anger spread, as Clark’s friends told their friends, and the viral nature of Facebook took over.
The man missed the flight, but Clark’s missive and the resulting outcry didn’t miss the mark – not by a long shot – as the airline quickly got involved, not just in investigating what went wrong and refunding his ticket but, after the hullabaloo took on steam, announcing that it had flown the man to another location, to meet his daughter on Saturday.
And because it all was playing out in public, as things do these days, they also posted their responses publicly, leaving some digital onlookers dissatisfied, others less so.
Some of the many to weigh in on the matter pointed to federal laws such as the Americans With Disabilities Act and the Air Carrier Accessibility Act. Others urged the man at the center of the situation to sue, or vowed not to fly the airline unless it did right by those involved and made sure it never happens again.
But while Clark said he never intended his frustration-fueled missive to go viral on Facebook and beyond, he said Saturday afternoon that the thousands responding to his tale of "the worst of humanity" actually has shown him one thing: that "the best of humanity is alive and well. that light exists. that accountability is possible."
Clark insisted he did not intend to create a stir, but said "the unintended consequence was a good one, that people demonstrated the best of humanity in response to this all."
He also praised the airline, saying it "has an outstanding track record (and) ended up doing the right thing (at least most of the way there)."
But later, on Saturday night, the airline posted another update that Clark found disturbing. It said the customer "arrived late and didn't request or assistance or let us know of any disabilities."
"He was also exhibiting signs of inebriation and smelled of alcohol," the airline claimed, adding that they are "conducting a thorough review" of the incident and will respond to the customer within 10 days.