Braille Monitor November 1986
STATE OF CALIFORNIA
COUNTY OF FRESNO
Affidavit of Jan Uribes
I, Jan Uribes, being first duly sworn, depose and say:
1. My name is Jan Uribes. I reside at 3757 E. Dakota, Apartment H, City of Fresno, County of Fresno, State of California 93726, with my husband, Michael. I am an independent business person. I am legally blind and use a long white cane to move about independently.
2. I have diabetes. This means that I must carefully watch and regulate my eating schedule. When on a trip and changing time zones, I must take extra special care to make sure that I do not suffer an imbalance which could be life threatening.
3. In late June and early July, 1986, I traveled from my home in Fresno, California, to Kansas City, Missouri, and back home. All my flights were on United Airlines and my experience, setting aside the Bakersfield incident, was uniformly unpleasant. On every single flight a flight attendant tried to take my white cane and stow it in the overhead compartment even though federal regulations specifically permit me to retain my white cane by my seat. On each flight I firmly stated I would keep my cane with me and no flight attendant ultimately made an issue of the matter. When passing through Denver on the way to Kansas City, my incoming flight was very late and I thought I might miss my outbound plane. I asked United for assistance to get from gate to gate on time, and I'm sorry I did. My outbound flight was also delayed, and I had plenty of time. The woman assigned to talk with me from gate to gate brought a wheelchair and would have insisted that I use it except that I insisted more vehemently that I would not. So she dragged the wheelchair behind her as we walked. She walked very slowly, obviously believing that I could not move quickly though speed seemed to be necessary to make my connection. When we arrived at my next gate she would not leave me, stating that it was her job to stay with me until I went on to the airplane so that I did not "fall and hurt myself." I walked away from her and asked a fellow passenger if I could simply walk out to the plane with him to which he readily and pleasantly agreed. A male United official came up to us and rudely informed me that I was not to speak to the other passengers; that it was United's job to take care of me and not the job of any fellow passenger. Though the other passenger had been perfectly willing to help, he wasn't going to get into a fight with United and left. A second passenger who had observed the entire incident came up and offered her assistance, and we boarded together. It is obvious to me now that I would have changed gates quicker and experienced no patronizing and condescending treatment if I had simply done the whole thing on my own.
4. On Sunday, July 6, 1986, I was traveling from Kansas City, Missouri, to Fresno, California, on United Airlines. I had completed the Kansas City-Denver portion of my trip and connected with United flight 687 bound from Denver for Fresno with an intermediate stop in Bakersfield, California. I was scheduled to arrive in Fresno at 11:25 a.m. local time. This involved a two-hour time change from Kansas City time. We were late departing from Denver due to delays caused by traffic and weather.
5. I received my seat assignment on flight 687 at the same time I received seat assignments for other portions of my trip from a Fresno ticket counter agent at the beginning of my entire trip. On flight 687 I asked to have my seat assignment changed. I did so because I wanted to be sure I had a window seat so that I could easily store my cane by the wall. Since I was not certain whether my seat assignment of flight 687 would be a window seat, I approached the podium in Denver using my white cane and asked for a different seat assignment. I specified that my new seat should be by a window. I made no other request about the seat and was willing to take whatever window seat I was given. I was given a new seat assignment in response to my request. I was assigned seat 11-F. I boarded flight 687 and sat in seat 11-F. Several flight attendants spoke to me in the course of my boarding and settling myself. Since I used my white cane when boarding and since I stowed my white cane by the wall next to me, all these flight attendants knew I was blind.
6. I sat in seat 11-F during the Denver-Bakersfield portion of the flight.
7. While we were on the ground in Bakersfield, a flight attendant approached me and asked me to move to a different seat. The flight attendant stated that United had "made a mistake" in my seat assignment. The "mistake" was that I had been sitting in an exit row all the way from Denver.
8. I replied that 11-F was the seat I had been assigned and in which I had been sitting for the entire flight thus far. I stated that I did not choose to move from my assigned seat.
9. A person identified as a "supervisor" then came to my seat and insisted that I had to move from 11-F. The supervisor tried to convince me to move one row forward. She stated that if I would move up one row, there would be no more problem.
10. Both the flight attendant and the supervisor stated that I was breaking the law by sitting where I had been sitting for the entire flight thus far. Both stated that the Federal Air Regulations (they called them FAR's) prohibited blind persons from sitting in exit rows as I had done all the way from Denver. I asked for a copy of this FAR and was never provided with one.
11. Next, a person who identified himself as the Captain came to my seat. I asked for his name and he replied that it was Dave Meik. Captain Meik was very firm in insisting that federal regulations prohibited me from sitting in the exit row I was then in. I asked Captain Meik for a copy of this federal regulation and he left, returning with a manual in his hand. I asked a fellow passenger to read what the Captain had brought. The Captain had brought a copy of United's company policy regarding passengers. I knew that there was no federal regulation such as the one every United official pretended to rely upon.
12. Next, United officials offered to seat me in first-class for the remainder of the flight as an inducement to move. I declined this offer, preferring the seat I had been assigned. Even though United officials could only produce their own company policy to justify their assertions, they continued to insist that I was breaking federal law by sitting where I was.
13. At this point the supervisor came back and informed me that I would have to be taken off the plane by security officers since I was breaking federal law and would not move. The supervisor stated that I was delaying ninety-six other passengers. She stated that the ninety-six other passengers could not understand why I was refusing to cooperate with United. Of course, all the airline officials' statements were made while they were standing in the aisle near row 11 where many other passengers could hear them. I was seated and only the passengers in my row could hear my replies. United deliberately used its authority and uniforms and positioning during our conversations to prejudice other passengers against me. Their continued insistence that I was breaking federal law when their own documents proved otherwise is ample evidence that they had decided to publicly brand me a criminal.
14. A security officer then came to my seat. He informed me that he and his partner were going to take me off the plane. I agreed to walk off with them. They did not formally arrest me but I am sure that they would have done so if I had not agreed to walk off.
15. As I was leaving the aircraft, I heard the head flight attendant making an announcement to the rest of the passengers. She told the passengers that United Airlines was sorry for the delay and inconvenience caused by the blind person.
16. I was escorted into the terminal by the security officers who then left me. I went to the United ticket counter to arrange for my transportation on to Fresno. I had had a valid ticket for the entire trip and expected United to book me on the next flight. I also expected that they would take extreme precautions to make sure that I was not seated in an exit row.
17. The woman at the United ticket counter informed me that I had, in effect, forfeited the remainder of my ticket by refusing to move to first class. The woman told me that since security had removed me from the plane, United would not honor the last portion of my ticket. It was then about 1:30 p.m., and the next scheduled flight departed at 7:40 p.m. The additional ticket would cost me $25. I did not have $25 with me. I had planned my cash very carefully during my trip away from home and was planning to arrive at the Fresno airport with just enough money to get to my home. I had no extra money for another ticket nor any for the additional food that I needed in order to eat on schedule.
18. I was compelled to borrow money from a relative of a friend who was kind enough to come out to the airport for the purpose of making me a loan. I then ate and bought a bus ticket with this loaned money. I arrived at my home at about 7:10 p.m., almost eight hours later than I had expected to get there.