A Chicago cheerleading organization claimed that a Southwest Airlines gate agent denied early boarding for two of their special-needs athletes last month and also mocked them afterwards.
The allegation was made by Reign Athletics Dynasty, a competitive cheerleading group, on Twitter, Thursday, to draw attention to the alleged incident that took place Feb. 22, when the team was waiting to board a Southwest flight to Atlanta, Georgia. The tweet was penned by the sister of one of the athletes who was denied early boarding and tweeted out by the group from its handle.
The user alleged in the tweet that the team had collected their disability boarding passes before the arriving early at the gate to get their special needs athletes seated before other passengers could enter the aircraft. “When lined up, all other handicapped passengers were brought out into the plane. When it was our time to get on, the man checking in tickets looked at my sister and ‘HAHA I can do that with my hand too and say I’m disabled,’” the tweet said.
After that, the gate agent continued to let families with the children board before the athletes, as other Southwest employees who heard the agent’s remarks, started laughing. “I of course, flipped out and demanded to speak to someone in charge,” the tweet continued. “When this happened, another member looked at me and said ‘Are you disabled? No. Those two are clearly faking it to get on early.’”
The Twitter user claimed that her sister’s physical disability was visibly noticeable as she suffered from cerebral palsy, which impaired the functions of the left side of her body, including her left hand. She also had shunts in her brain, which required her to carry medical proof of her condition at all times. Despite this, the agent let in all the Gorup A passengers, family travelers and handicapped passengers in the plane before the special needs athletes.
The user said that she was an “avid southwest member” and was appalled to see the “complete disregard for the disabled community,” adding that the decision to go public with the experience came after the airline refused to respond when the group reached out to it.
When they did finally get a response, it was to was free drinks coupon for the humiliation. “I am disgusted that someone thinks having a free would make up for the experience we had,” the user wrote.
Southwest Airlines tweeted the following reply to Reign Athletics Dynasty’s explosive tweet:
They also issued the following statement to Fox News regarding the incident: “We were disheartened to read the description of the experience this group encountered while traveling with us to their competition. We have been in contact with the customers to assure them that we are actively looking into the situation and will be providing them with a comprehensive response once we fully investigate. Our employees are world-famous for offering warm and friendly hospitality, and we sincerely apologize if this experience was anything less. We do not tolerate rude or demeaning behavior from any of our employees, and we take these accusations very seriously.”
“Regarding our policy, preboarding is available for customers who have a specific seating need to accommodate their disability and/or need assistance in boarding the aircraft or stowing an assistive device. If a customer with a disability simply needs a little extra time to board, we will permit the customer to board before family boarding, between the ‘A’ and ‘B’ groups. We are following up with the employees working this particular flight to emphasize our policies and procedures and underscore our expectations to offer all customers the legendary customer service we’re known for—and especially customers with disabilities,” the statement added.