Braille Monitor November 1986
As Fred Schroeder and a large group of other Federationists were returning home from the national convention in Kansas City on July 5, 1986, incidents occurred which should be brought to the attention of the blind of the nation and the general public. Fred Schroeder was arrested for sitting in a seat to which he had been assigned while other blind persons were permitted to sit in exactly the same type of seat. Not only were they permitted to sit in a similar seat, but they were knowingly permitted to sit in it. The tension which is building between the blind and the airlines is intensifying, and unless airline officials can be brought to some semblance of sanity, there will almost certainly be an explosion. The following three affidavits tell what happened:
State of New Mexico
County of Bernalillo
Affidavit of Frederic K. Schroeder
I, Frederic K. Schroeder, being first duly sworn, depose and say:
1. My name is Frederic K. Schroeder. I live with my wife and two small children at 439 Ash NE, Albuquerque, New Mexico 87106. I am employed by the Slate of New Mexico as Director of the state's Commission for the Blind. I am Blind and use a long white cane to move about safely.
2. On Saturday, July 5, 1986, I went to the Kansas City Airport to begin my return trip to Albuquerque. I possessed a ticket on TWA Airlines. I was scheduled to depart Kansas City at 2:53 p.m. on flight #502 destined for St. Louis. I was later to connect with flight #845 ait of St. Louis to Albuquerque departing at 6:45 p.m.
3. I was traveling with a group of thirty-one people. I was assigned seat 5-F, which is a bulkhead seat. Prior to departure I spoke with Mary Willows. Mrs. Willows and her husband James are both blind and were traveling with their two small children. They were not part of the group traveling to Albuquerque. Instead, they were destined for San Jose, California, via St. Louis. Mrs. Willows told me that she and her family had been assigned seats in row 14 even though they had requested bulkhead seating because of their children.
4. The flight was approximately one hour delayed. Airline officials announced that there was a delay in "getting the plane ready." At approximately 3:40 p.m. we began to board the flight. Mrs. Willows and her family went on ahead of me. When I got to the door of the plane I found Mrs. Willows with one of her children standing on the jetway. She told me that row 14 to which they had been assigned was an emergency exit row. She stated that the flight attendant would not allow them to take their seats since Mr. and Mrs. Willows were blind.
5. I spoke with the flight attendant and told her that I had been assigned a bulkhead seat and would be glad to give it to the Willows in hopes that enough seats would be vacant in the bulkhead row so that their family would not have to be separated. I offered to exchange my seat (5-F) for one of theirs. The flight attendant told me that I could not exchange a seat with one of the Willows since row 14 was an exit row seat and therefore she could not allow me to sit there either. I urged her to give my seat to the Willows and see of she could keep them together in the bulkhead row and find for me another seat which would not be restricted.
6. The flight attendant left and returned shortly to say that the Willows had been placed in the bulkhead row and that I had been assigned seat 15-F. I boarded the plane and took my assigned seat. The emergency exit row was immediately in front of me in row 14. The exit row had no seat adjacent to the window. Therefore, there was no seat immediately in front of me.
7. After the plane pulled away from the gate, a flight attendant came and told me that I would have to move to another seat. She told me that a federal regulation prohibited blind people from sitting in an exit row. I told her that it was my belief that no such federal regulation existed and that I intended to stay in the seat to which I had been assigned. The flight attendant told me that she had to notify the captain of my unwillingness to move and then she left.
8. Seated in the emergency exit row ahead of me (14-E) was a TWA pilot. He told me that in an emergency he would handle opening the emergency exit door. He told me that he would talk to the flight crew about it and that I should not have to move. He then said that the worst that would happen would be that I might have to move to the middle seat in my row so as not to be immediately adjacent to the exit door.
9. The plane taxied to the runway and the flight attendants gave the briefing concerning emergency procedures. Just as the plane was about to leave the flight attendant again came to me and said I would have to move back three rows before the plane could take off. I again told her that I intended to remain in my assigned seat.
10. The TWA pilot seated in front of me told the flight attendant that he would assume responsibility for handling the emergency door. She said that she would notify the captain and asked his name. He said to just tell the captain that Gordon said he would take responsibility.
11. The flight attendant left and returned with the copilot. He told me that I would have to move. I explained that I was in my assigned seat and believed there was no reason why I should be required to move. He told me that it was an FAA requirement. I responded that it was my belief that no such FAA rule existed. He assured me that it was an FAA regulation. Again I responded that I intended to remain in my assigned seat. He asked me if I was refusing to move. I replied that it was my intention to remain in my assigned seat. He left to notify the captain.
12. Shortly thereafter, Captain Brent came and identified himself to me. He, too, told me that FAA rules required that I move. I again said that I believed no such FAA rule existed and that I intended to stay in my assigned seat. He told me that if I refused to move he would have to return to the gate and have me deplane. I again stated that I would remain where I was.
13. Captain Brent left and quickly returned with his TWA manual. He read to me from the manual a section which specifically stated that blind passengers could not sit adjacent to emergency exit doors. I told him that it was my understanding that TWA policy prohibited blind passengers from sitting in exit rows but still believed that it was not an FAA policy. He told me that he understood my position but that I was fighting the point with the wrong people. He said that the problem was with the policy makers and that he had no alternative but to enforce the policies he was given. He offered to write and sign a statement that he had required me to move if I would agree to take another seat. I told him I would stay where I was. He then left, stating that he had no choice but to return to the gate. The flight attendant returned and again asked me to move. I told her that I had been assigned the seat I was in and that I intended to stay where I was. She told me that what I said was not true. She told me that I had been assigned the bulkhead seat and that I had requested to be moved. I told her that I had given up my bulkhead seat to a family with small children and that I had been assigned seat 15-F with the flight attendant's full knowledge that I was blind. Since she was the flight attendant who had assigned me 15-F in the first place, I reminded her that she had given me 15-F specifically because I was blind and therefore not allowed to sit in row 14, which was the exit row.
14. When we arrived at the gate a TWA official named Leonard E. Dwyer came to me and told me that FAA regulations required that I move. I told Mr. Dwyer that I planned to remain in my assigned seat. He told me that I could not remain where I was. He stepped aside and another gentleman addressed me stating that I would have to move. When I told him that I would not, he told me that he would remove me from the airplane if I did not cooperate. I asked him whether he was a policeman and he indicated that he was. He told me that I was violating an FAA regulation to which I replied that I believed he was mistaken, that it was my understanding that there was no such FAA rule. He told me that he knew his job and that I was breaking the law. I again stated that I planned to stay where I was. He told me that he was going to take me off the airplane and that I should come with him. I asked whether I was under arrest. He stated that I was being removed from the plane and that if he were to arrest me, I would be held in custody and questioned by the FBI and FAA officials. I said that if I was not under arrest, then I would stay where I was. He then stated that I was under arrest. He then asked me to get up and when I did not, he unbuckled my seat belt, took hold of my left arm and the back of my jacket, and lifted me out of my seat. He then took hold of my left arm at the wrist and above the elbow and led me off of the plane.
15. While I was being led off, other members of my group argued with TWA personnel about my arrest and took pictures of me being led off the plane. When I got onto the jetway, I was turned over to a policewoman who escorted me back into the terminal.
16. The policewoman told me that I could leave. I then told her that the other officer had placed me under arrest. She seemed surprised and indicated that I should wait for his return. In the meantime the TWA official, Mr. Dwyer, took my boarding pass and left to schedule me on a later flight. When the first police officer returned (Officer L. Hosmann, badge #526), the policewoman (Officer V. Bean, badge #529) asked him if he had placed me under arrest based on the captain's word that I was violating an FAA regulation. He went on to state, "Now they're telling me it may not be an FAA regulation." He stated that, "the chief" was looking it up. He said that if it was not an FAA rule, then the captain was guilty of providing false information to the police officer and that he would "get him " the next time the captain was in Kansas City.
17. The TWA official, Mr. Dwyer, returned to tell me that I had been assigned a seat on another flight which would be departing shortly. I told him that I could not leave since I was under arrest. He turned to Officer Hosmann and asked whether he had arrested me. Officer Hosmann replied that he had, based on information given him by the pilot. He again stated that he was having the chief check to see whether I had violated an FAA regulation and that if I had not, TWA was "going to be in a lot of trouble." Officer Hosmann had given the chief the phone number of the phone at the ticket counter and was waiting for the chief to call him back.
18. A few minutes later the chief came on Officer Hosmann's radio stating that the phone number at the gate was busy and asked for another number to call. Officer Hosmann asked whether he had found an FAA regulation concerning the matter. Instead of replying to the question, the chief asked again for a number to call. In a few minutes the phone cleared and Officer Hosmann went off to talk with the chief.
19. Upon his return he told me that there was no FAA regulation concerning the exit row. However, he said that TWA's policy on the matter was approved by the FAA and therefore had to be followed. He said that by refusing to follow an FAA approved airline policy, I was violating an FAA regulation concerning "interfering with a flight crew." He then told me that TWA did not wish to press charges. I asked him if he was telling me that an airline could dream up any rule it wished and that if I did not follow it I was breaking the law. He replied that it was their airline and that they could do whatever they wanted in the same way that if I walked on his property he could have me removed. I asked him if he thought it would be legal to say that sighted people could walk on his property but not blind people. He replied that he was not a judge.
20. I then asked what would happen next. Officer Hosmann told me that I was free to go. I asked if I was still under arrest and he indicated I was not. I then asked if I understood correctly that I had been arrested and was now being unarrested. He said that was correct. I then took the names of the two officers and their badge numbers and asked the TWA official for his name and name of the pilot.
21. I then departed on TWA flight #249 at 4:40 p.m. and arrived in St. Louis in time to rejoin my group.
22. A friend and former fellow employee, Susan Benbow, was traveling from Kansas City to Albuquerque in the same group with which I was traveling. We had seat assignments together for the return journey to Albuquerque. She was originally assigned 5-E in the bulkhead row and also gave her seat to the Willows family. She was reassigned seat 15-E when I was assigned seat 15-F. Ms. Benbow is sighted. She wa with me at all times in the boarding area, on the aircraft, and while I was dealing with the police and had the opportunity to hear and see all of the events involving my seating and removal from flight #502.
State of New Mexico
County of Dona Ana
Affidavit of Geetha Pai
I, Geetha Pai, being first duly sworn, depose and say:
1. My name is Geetha Pai. I reside at 1589 Imperial Ridge, City of Las Cruces, County of Dona Ana, State of New Mexico. I own and operate two restaurants offering the foods of my native India. Mostly I manage the restaurants but occasionally I enjoy doing the cooking for the customers myself. The two restaurants, both named Tandoor Indian Cuisine, are located in my home city of Las Cruces, New Mexico, and in Denver Colorado. I am sighted.
2. On Saturday, July 5, 1986, I was traveling with a group of thirty-one persons from Kansas City, Missouri, to New Mexico. We were scheduled to start on TWA flight 502 departing at 2:53 p.m. from Kansas City. Mr. Fred Schroeder was part of my group.
3. Mr. Schroeder was seated in the row immediately behind an exit row on the aircraft. As we were nearly ready to take off, the airline crew insisted that Mr. Schroeder was not allowed to sit in his seat because he is blind. The captain drove the plane all the way back to the terminal where a policeman got on and removed Mr. Schroeder.
4. The flight was late getting started. We did not board until almost an hour after we were supposed to leave. Mr. Schroeder's removal from the plane caused an additional delay. I noticed what appeared to be a family seated in row 21 on the right side of the plane as you look forward. This group consisted of an adult man, an adult woman, and two small children. I sympathized with the two adults and two children whose trip was being lengthened by these delays. I spoke to the woman, stating that I was sorry for the delay but that someone had to stand up for the rights of blind people. I explained that the airline's policy discriminated against blind people and that it was unusual to have a group together which could defend blind people's rights as we did today.
5. The man interrupted this statement by telling me that I did not need to tell him what was going on. He said he worked for the Department of Transportation and intended to testify "against you." He then told me to "sit down and keep your mouth shut."
6. Later in the flight I noticed one of the children writing "Brian R." on a piece of paper.
7. When we arrived in St. Louis the two adults and two children stayed on the plane as a group. The plane was going on to Cincinnati. I checked with a TWA agent in the terminal to find out who was sitting in those seats. The names of the persons assigned to row 21 D, E, and F were Sherry Hauck, Paul Mayer, and Brian Reinshegen.
8. I know that some of the seat assignments originally made were changed at the gate. I do not know if these are the names of the persons who actually sat in row 21, though the child's name is almost certainly correct. The rude and ungentlemanly manner of the man who stated he worked at the Department of Transportation caused me to believe that he would make any inquiry about his name a very unpleasant experience.
9. Vicky and Richard Trujillo were also part of my group. They are both blind. They were seated in a row identical to the row occupied by Mr. Schroeder. They were not removed from the plane. They sat in their seats from Kansas City to St. Louis, though Mr. Schroeder was not allowed to occupy a seat in an identical row for the same trip.
State of New Mexico
County of Bernalillo
Affidavit of Vicky Trujillo
I, Vickie Trujillo, being first duly sworn, depose and say:
1. My name is Vicky Trujillo. I reside with my husband and family at 322 56th Street S.W., City of Albuquerque, County of Bernalillo, State of New Mexico. I am totally blind. My husband is legally blind. I use a white cane to move about safely. My husband does not use a white cane.
2. On Saturday, July 5, 1986, I was traveling from Kansas City, Missouri, to Albuquerque, New Mexico, with a group of thirty-one persons. Mr. Fred Schroeder was also part of this group. My husband, my young teenage daughter, and I were assigned to seats 17-D, 17-E, and 17-F for the Kansas City-St. Louis portion of the trip on TWA flight 502 scheduled to depart at 2:53 p.m. After about an hour's delay, the plane was ready and we boarded, taking our assigned seats.
3. Our three seats were located immediately behind a row with an emergency overwing exit. The seat right next to the window exit had been removed so there were only two seats ahead of us. We sat in our three adjacent seats. Two rows in front of us, in a row laid out exactly like ours, was Fred Schroeder.
4. When we were out on the runway, a series of airline officials tried to make Mr. Schroeder move from his seat. Mr. Schroeder declined, and the captain drove the plane back to the gate. A policeman came onto the plane and removed Mr. Schroeder.
5. I couldn't understand why Mr. Schroeder was being removed. My husband and I, both blind, were seated in exactly the same kind of row as Mr. Schroeder. I and others of our traveling group protested Mr. Schroeder's removal. Some of us considered getting off the plane with him. We rose from our seats and then declined, according to Mr. Schroeder's wish to remain on the plane and go home. When we returned to our seats, other passengers occupied them.
6. We protested to the airline people that other passengers had taken our seats. We insisted that we wanted to sit in the seats assigned of us and the seats we had already been occupying. The crew replied that they thought we were leaving and had allowed other passengers to have our seats. After some confusion, the crew moved the other passengers out of our seats and we again sat down in row 17, seats D, E, and F.
7. Across the aisle from us in seat 17-C was a woman who had been brought onto the plane by the airline in a wheelchair. She occupied seat 17-C from the time she was placed there by airline personnel in Kansas City until the time she was removed by them in St. Louis.
8. We occupied our seats from the time we regained them in Kansas City until we deplaned in St. Louis. The flight crew fussed a little at us for sitting in row 17 after Mr. Schroeder had been removed. But they did not insist that we move. In fact, they helped us regain our seats from the other passengers. One official commented that it was all right for us to sit in row 17 so long as our sighted young teenager was in the row with us.