John Morris, a 24-year-old Colorado State University student who is quadriplegic due to a snowboarding accident in 2006 that left him paralyzed, was forced off a Frontier Airlines flight, because the pilot felt it was not safe for him, despite Morris having flown Frontier Airlines from Denver International Airport to Dallas for a family function just two days prior.
Morris is confined to a wheelchair with limited upper body control. When he and his mother, Kathleen Morris, boarded in Dallas for their return home, he was strapped in with a seatbelt extension normally used by larger passengers, the pilot refused to take off until Morris was removed from the plane.
“When a flight attendant saw Morris strapped in, they said they would have to clear it with the captain,” said Kathleen Morris. In the past, Morris had always used airline seat-belt extensions to secure his chest and legs to the seat. This time, however, he was told that Frontier’s equipment could not be used for medical purposes, so other passengers offered their belts to help restrain him.
Airport police were called, and three officers boarded the plane. Although they were sympathetic to the situation, there was nothing they could do. Because Morris did not pose as a threat to the plane or the passengers, this was not a police matter. They advised the pilot that Morris appeared to be safely restrained, but the pilot refused to examine the restraints himself nor would he take off with Morris on board.
“He cannot fly. I want him off this plane,” the pilot told police. “I felt horrible. I just felt like I didn’t belong. I haven’t felt that bad since the accident,” added Morris.
“The pilot did what he thought was best for the safety of this disabled person and the party, as well as the airplane, there was no wrong done here,” stated Peter Kowalchuk, a spokesman for Frontier. “I don’t believe that his rights were violated. We’re in the process now of conducting an investigation.”
The Department of Transportation’s policy does allow removal for safety reasons. However, the decision must be based on a direct threat analysis. The investigation will determine if the pilot used proper protocol.
Frontier arranged for Morris and his mother to be on the very next flight to Denver, where that pilot welcomed him on board. Morris has retained an attorney and has decided to make it his mission that this does not happen to another passenger.