American Airlines: Reverses Disability Discriminatory Policy
Updated: Jan 15
An Open Letter to Doug Parker, CEO of American Airlines
Dear Mr. Parker,
Over the past several weeks, there has been a lot of buzz (not in a good way) about American Airlines' (AA) policy to eliminate travel options for power wheelchair users. I first learned of this policy from famed travel blogger, John Morris of www.wheelchairtravel.org when he reported that AA made the decision to ban power wheelchairs on approximately 130 of its regional flight routes.
I must admit to being completely shocked by the creation of such a policy.
As Mr. Morris states, this policy was put in place in June 2020. This is a little ironic because the policy effectively went into place just one month before the nation would celebrate the 30th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The fact that American Airlines would implement a policy banning travel for some wheelchair users demonstrates a complete disregard to the spirit and intention of a law that was established to create equal access and opportunity for people with disabilities.
Three weeks ago, when I first learned of this issue and posted about it, I predicted it wouldn't last. I know the power of the disability community and felt certain we would rally, ban, and fight for our rights to equal access and inclusion.
Today, I learned this policy has been reversed. Which is good news. But let's be clear, this policy was an affront to people with disabilities, their families, and their travel companions. Make no doubt about it, a policy that creates disadvantages, or lack of access and inclusion for a group of people IS systemic discrimination.
There are a few problems with the approach American Airlines took in creating and implementing this policy.
1. Nothing About Us Without Us: American Airlines had a perceived problem and decided on a solution seemingly without asking those it would affect, or to work collaboratively with individuals with disabilities it would impact to find solutions that would work for everyone.
2. Discriminating Against The Largest Minority Group: People with disabilities are the largest minority group in the world. In the United States alone people with disabilities represent a massive $175B market opportunity. Globally this number jumps to $1Trillon. Why would any business limit access and inclusion to the largest minority group; especially one with such enormous spending power?
3. Disability Pride: People with disabilities stand in unity with one another. Especially, when travel bloggers with large fan bases like John Morris and Cory Lee of www.curbfreewithcorylee.com have strongly come out in opposition to this policy and have called to ban travel on American Airlines. Clearly, AA learned this lesson and reversed the policy because of the outrage from the disability community.
Moving Forward: How to Make it Right.
1. Admit You Were Wrong: A mea culpa is important and will go a long way. You can't just reverse the policy and assume all is well. You must demonstrate that you KNOW you made a mistake, you understand the impact of it, and communicate how you will do better.
2. Collaborate with the Disability Inclusion Community: American Airlines must immediately engage with the disabled community and pull together a disability council that will help them identify solutions to challenges for AA and travelers with disabilities.
3. Assess ALL Disability-Related Policies & Procedures: It would appear that AA lacks a basic understanding of access and inclusion best practices. All policies, procedures, and programs should be assessed to identify what else negatively impacts customers and employees with disabilities.
For my part, I would like to offer American Airlines a free 30- day consultation. I will conduct a comprehensive assessment and provide AA with recommendations to move forward with a focus and dedication to truly be inclusive of people with disabilities.
Meg O’Connell, CEO & Founder
Global Disability Inclusion, LLC
American Airlines Million Miler
Multi-year Executive Platinum Flyer