Braille Monitor                                                                                January 1986



Still More on the Airlines Safety Hoax

In the past few issues of the Monitor we have been reporting in detail on the rising crescendo of abuse and hysteria which increasingly characterizes the airlines' treatment of blind passengers. Regardless of how far-fetched and unreasonable the behavior of airline personnel may be, it is almost always done (usually with a straight face) in the name of safety. The word "safety" has come to be (in modern parlance) a buzzword. Presumably its use ends all discussion. Whether the requirement in question has any reasonable connection with safety is not to be challenged. Airline employees seem to feel that the mere use of the word is sufficient. And apparently it does not matter whether the "safety" deals with handling emergencies during flight, helping the blind person, making things better for other passengers, or simply saving the skin of the airline or allowing it to take out its frustration on the blind as a class for daring to press for equal rights. A case in point is what happened to Holly Frisch of Washington, D.C., when on October 13, 1985, she called American Airlines to make a reservation. Let Monitor readers ponder her letter and see whether they can find any connection between the alleged airline policy and safety. Here, in the words of Holly Frisch, is what occurred:

Washington, D.C.
October 15, 1985

Dear Dr. Jernigan:

Here is what happened two days ago when I made reservations on American Airlines to visit my family next month. I requested a bulkhead seat. Asked why, I said I would be traveling with my dog guide and prefer that location. The agent asked me to hold.

"I need to ask you a question," she said somewhat uncomfortably when she returned to the line. "Do you read Braille?"

I said I do and asked why she requested this information. She replied that now, if a blind passenger cannot read Braille, he or she must either be accompanied or fill out something called a passenger acceptance approval form. "We have to ask you a lot of personal questions," she added.

When I expressed my surprise and dismay, she said, "It's for safety reasons." I assume she meant the literature in the plastic seat pockets on the plane.

I am not writing because of any personal problem. I received everything I requested from American, including my bulkhead seat, one of the airline's special diet meals, the best possible bargain fare, and passage in the cabin for my cat as well as my dog guide. As you know, those last three items are available to any passenger, blind or sighted, who knows about them, how to ask for them, and the rules pertaining to them. I am writing because I am thinking of many of my blind friends who cannot read Braille right now, but who have fine ears and minds with which to listen to and follow verbal directions. In many cases their inability to read Braille does not negate their adjustments to blindness. Some are too recently blind to have had the opportunity to learn Braille. Others do not have enough feeling in their fingers to make Braille reading really feasible. Many of them cope far better with emergencies than I, who have read Braille with ease for at least twenty-five years. I know how degraded I would feel if I had to be accompanied by a baby sitter or nursemaid or to fill out a form so the airline could determine whether or not I could fly.