Braille Monitor March 1986
January 3, 1986
Miss Peggy Pinder
United Airlines has done it again!
On Sunday, December 22nd, my wife and I traveled from Baltimore, Maryland, to Denver, Colorado, on United Airlines flight 209 (Baltimore to Chicago) and United flight 297 (Chicago to Denver). On flight 209 I had a pre-assigned window seat in a 3-seat row. While I removed my top coat, I leaned my cane against the middle seat of the row. Before I had my coat off, a flight attendant asked whether the cane was collapsible. I informed her it was not.
She then said she would take the cane and stow it during the flight. At this moment I heard the chain on my cane rattle and realized she had taken hold of the cane. I informed her that I would stow the cane between my window seat and the wall of the plane, and I requested her to give the cane back to me. Apparently she had let go of the cane and she replied that she did not have it. I then stowed the cane between my seat and the wall of the plane.
As we were taxiing, the head flight attendant gave the usual briefing over the public address system to all passengers. She then came back to where I was sitting and stated that she was sorry for the confusion concerning the cane and went on to say that it was her responsibility to give me a personal briefing. I told her that I understood that she might be required to do this, but it was unnecessary, because I have traveled extensively and was familiar with the location of the exits, the oxygen masks, and the seat belt. Despite my statement, she gave me the full briefing, insisting that I feel the oxygen mask.
She then asked me if I knew how to unbuckle the seat belt. I assured her that I did and also I pointed out that since I already had the seat belt closed across my lap, it was clear I also know how to buckle it. She then stated that it was necessary for me to demonstrate how to unbuckle the seat belt. She insisted until I unbuckled my seat belt and also buckled it again.
I told her that this was totally unnecessary and that she was equating blindness with mental retardation. She kept repeating that she was required to do this and that she was responsible for my safety. She then left me alone. To my knowledge no other passenger was required to demonstrate their ability to buckle and unbuckle their seat belts.
In Chicago we changed planes and boarded United flight 297 for Denver. I again had a pre-assigned window seat. On this flight, with a different crew, no mention was made of the cane, and there was no personal briefing for me. The head flight attendant, of course, gave the briefing to all passengers over the public address system.
Since flight 209 was almost full, I am sure that passengers sitting around me heard the flight attendant insist that I demonstrate my ability to buckle and unbuckle my seat belt. The flight attendant did not appear to be aware of the indignity and embarrassment involved in her performance. I have traveled by air regularly since 1943, and for a period of approximately twenty years I traveled by air an average of 150,000 miles per year. Never before have I been requested to demonstrate my ability to buckle and unbuckle a seat belt.
Once Again United Airlines' inconsistency in the treatment of blind passengers is evident--harassment on flight 209 and no reference to the cane and no personal briefing on flight 297. This is one more proof of the fact that we as blind travelers never know what to expect from United Airlines. On one flight we may be treated the way we should, and on the next flight harassed, embarrassed, and treated as though we are mentally retarded.
W. Harold Bleakley
Aids Unlimited, Inc.
January 10, 1986
As you say, United did do it again to you. Reading your letter is another of the ways that any sentient being in this nation has of learning that the blind do suffer discrimination. The comforting part of your letter is that the blind who do suffer the discrimination also know it and stand up for their rights and their dignity.
I have recently found some flight crews overly willing to insist on the specialized briefings and have checked the Federal Aviation Regulations concerning this matter since I feel, as you do, that it constitutes a general public humiliation. There once was a requirement in the Federal Aviation Regulations that each blind passenger be given a personal briefing. There no longer is. I now tell anyone who wants to give me one that I am a lawyer and I know that the briefing is not required. This does not, of course, deter the zealous flight attendant who assures me that, even if I don't believe it, he or she is required to give the briefing. I then tell the flight attendant that, though he or she is going to give the briefing, I am not required to listen. I then proceed to read, and this sometimes involves my putting on ear phones. I explain before I do this that I understand the flight attendant believes that his or her job requires the briefing but that I know I am not required to have it or to listen. I explain this very nicely and with a real effort to convey my understanding of an employee's concern that he or she retain the job. Then I start to read.
While some flight attendants take this as an unkindness (some simply laugh, shorten the briefing, and leave), I, like you, intend to stand up for my rights and my dignity and to do it as nicely but as firmly as I can. It is all of us working together and calmly standing up for our dignity as you did that ultimately will change the world.