Braille Monitor March 1986
by Steven Hastalis
What I anticipated would be an uneventful flight became yet another confrontation between the blind and the airlines. It was the unexpected culmination of a weekend of Federation activity.
On Saturday morning, December 28, 1985, Peter Knezevich, NFB of Illinois Student Chapter President, and I flew to Springfield, Illinois. We had a most productive meeting of the Student Chapter. That evening, I traveled to Pekin, Illinois, to visit with Betty Schlosser, one of our most recent members.
On Sunday afternoon Betty's neighbor, La Vern Owens, drove me to Peoria Airport to board Britt Airways flight 770 for Chicago. Betty accompanied me to the airport.
The arrogance and recalcitrance of Britt ground personnel became all too familiar. This incident fit the overall pattern of so many others in recent years in which blind persons have been physically and verbally abused, barred from boarding, or hauled off planes by misguided airline personnel and law enforcement officials.
They subject us to all this humiliation and degradation in the name of "safety." When we insist on our dignity and demand our rights, they react with hostility. They are shocked and amazed that we are not eternally grateful for their so-called "help."
I stood up for my principles and our principles. Betty Schlosser stood with me, giving me moral support and reassurance throughout the ordeal. She told me she learned from the experience, and now she would know what to do if this happened to her.
The following correspondence details this incident and demonstrates why we have the National Federation of the Blind:
January 10, 1986
Mr. William C. Britt, President
Britt Airways, Inc.
Hulman Regional Airport
Terre Haute, Indiana
Dear Mr. Britt:
On December 29, 1985, shortly after 4:00 p.m., I arrived at Peoria Airport to board flight 770. It was scheduled to depart at 4:40 p.m. and arrive in Chicago at 5:25 p.m.
Accompanying me to the airport were Betty Schlosser and La Verne Owens, who drove us there. We passed through security without incident and arrived at gate 4 at approximately 4:20 p.m.
I walked up to the counter and handed the agent the envelope containing my ticket. He asked if we stopped at the front counter. I said we had not. He returned the envelope, having inserted the boarding pass. I asked him to point out the boarding pass. He showed me, and I removed it from the envelope. Then the agent asked if someone was meeting me in Chicago. I said no. I explained that I live in Chicago, work for the Chicago Transit Authority, am extremely familiar with O'Hare Airport, and would ride the subway into town. The agent said he must fill out a form and requested my name. I refused to give it and said it was unnecessary to fill out special forms. I added that I had flown Britt several times and on those occasions no such form was ever mentioned. He replied, "It's the law." I replied that I had flown extensively, and there is no such regulation mandating that a special form be filled out. He replied, "This is Peoria, and we do things differently here." I pointed out that the city of Peoria does not make FAA regulations. He turned to the customer standing immediately to my left and began processing his ticket.
"Sir, municipalities do not make airline regulations pertaining to the blind," I reiterated.
The agent snapped, "Excuse me all to hell!" Then the agent gave me an ultimatum. Either I consent to his filling out the form, or he would not let me board the plane. Without further discussion, I sat down and waited for the boarding announcement for flight 770. It never came.
A woman approached and asked my name. I refused to give it and told her everything I had already explained to the man at the counter. I asked why they insisted on filling out this form. She said she only wanted to know my name, address, phone number, and whether someone would be meeting me. "Why do you need to fill out a form?" I asked. "I already told you I was not being met." "You're not being reasonable," she replied.
"You're not being reasonable," I countered."I've flown on Britt several times and on many other carriers. I've never been forced to have such forms filled out."
"It's for your own safety," she replied.
"I'm not going to fly the plane; I'm only going to ride on it," I pointed out.
"It's our policy," she insisted.
"Read me the" form, and show me your regulations," I requested.
"I'm not going to read you my customer service manual," she said.
"Your policy is humiliating, demeaning, and discriminatory," I protested. "Are you going to make black people sit in the back of the plane?"
"No, you're not being reasonable," she answered. "Then are you going to ask these questions of all the other passengers?" I inquired. "No, of course not," she chuckled. "I don't have time for that."
I reiterated my refusal to consent to their filling out the form. She stated that I would not be allowed to board the plane.
By this time it was clear that neither Britt agents nor I would give in. The incident had become a serious confrontation. From a nearby public phone, I reached Marc Maurer, an attorney with the National Federation of the Blind, and reported developments up to that point.
After the phone call I returned to the counter. Again, the man asked for my name, and I refused to tell him. One more time the man and the woman agent told me I would have to agree to their filling out the form for me to fly, and I refused. They told me that they were holding the plane for me. I still refused to let them fill out the form.
The man told the woman to lock the inside door. He said, "We'll call the plane and tell them to go." He picked up the phone on the counter and called the field. He said, "That's it, go ahead." I heard engines rev up and the plane pull away.
I requested a copy of the form, and he refused to give it to me. I asked for a refund of my ticket, and he told me that it was nonrefundable. I was already aware that it was a special "QHOLIDAY Fare" and therefore not refundable. I responded that they imposed conditions of which I was not aware at the time I purchased the ticket and to which sighted passengers were not subjected. He cited the provision on the ticket that Britt reserves the right to set conditions and refuse transportation to anyone who does not abide by them. I asked him to read me this language. He said that he didn't have time. Again I asked for a refund, and he asked for my name. I asked him why he wanted it, and he threatened to call security. He said, "I'll give you your ticket and see you on your way." Again he requested my name. I asked what he would do if I gave it. He told me to go to the front ticket counter where he would return my ticket. I gave my name and proceeded to the front with my companions.
The agent met us and gave me the ticket. I asked La Vern Owens to see if the ticket coupon and receipt matched. She said they did. I asked the agent for his name and that of his co-worker. He left and returned a few minutes later with a brochure, which he handed me without comment. I therefore asked him what it was. He told me it was a Britt time table on which he circled the corporate address and wrote their names. I asked La Vern Owens to look for their names. She found the circled address but no names. I brought this to the agent's attention. He said, "Oh, well," and handed me a slip of paper. I asked La Vern to read it. The names were Dan Zerbonia and Kathy Alwan.
I called Marc Maurer a second time. We made several phone calls regarding alternate transportation to Chicago. We left the airport at about 5:55 p.m. I was driven to Bloomington, where I boarded a Greyhound bus to Chicago.
I contend that Britt Airways, through the actions of these agents, violated the Illinois White Cane Law, Illinois Human Rights Act, and Title XIV, Code of Federal Regulations, Part 382, of the U.S. Department of Transportation. I requested the following: the form your agents insisted on filling out; Britt's customer service regulations pertaining to the blind; refund of my ticket (as already requested by Ask Mr. Foster Travel); reimbursement for my Greyhound ticket from Bloomington to Chicago; and compensation for all monetary and other damages.
Very truly yours,
Second Vice President
National Federation of the Blind of Illinois
December 30, 1985
Britt Airways, Inc.
Hulman Regional Field
Terre Haute, Indiana
To Whom It May Concern:
Recently a client by the name of Steven Hastalis purchased a ticket from our agency on your special promotional fare "QHOLIDAY" from Chicago to Springfield returning from Peoria. Mr. Hastalis is blind and had no problem boarding the Britt flight from Chicago to Springfield on December 28. However, his return flight was a different story.
Upon checking, he was advised by Dan Zerbonia and Kathy Alwan that if he chose to board the flight he had to sign a release form stating Britt was not held responsible in any way. My client had explained that he did not have to do this on the previous flight and thought the whole matter was ridiculous. He did not board and had to be driven to Bloomington to board a bus to get him back to Chicago. He is a very important client and is employed by the CTA (Chicago Rapid Transit Authority), one of our biggest accounts. Enclosed is his return portion of the original ticket which we need credited to the Master Charge Account number listed on the ticket. Please send me copies of the credit for our files. Looking forward to your response.
Ask Mr. Foster