Braille Monitor                                                                             August-September 1986


Piedmont Swells the Throng

Jacquilyn Billey is the President of the National Federation of the Blind of Connecticut. She is sensitive, sensible, and considerate of the feelings of others. Recently she had an experience with Piedmont Airlines which has, unfortunately, come to be commonplace. If such incidents were not routine these days, one woulvj be shocked and incredulous. As it is, there is only outrage. There is also a growing determination to put a stop to the harassment and abuse. Here is what happened in Jacquilyn Billey's own words:

Here is a series of events that happened to me while traveling on Piedmont Airlines on Monday, May 5, 1986.

I was on flight 894, which left Burlington, Vermont, at 1:00 p.m. Shortly after I was seated, Linda (the flight attendant) asked for my cane. I told her that I would like to keep the cane with me, as it was not in my way. She said it would bother the man sitting behind me. After some discussion, she agreed to let me keep it.

After Linda left I turned to apologize to the man behind me, but no one was sitting in that seat. Soon Linda came back and, without speaking, placed my hands on a safety belt, telling me that she had to show me how to open and close the buckle. I explained that I already had the belt on, knew how to use it, and that I fly often. She continued to grab my hands and place them on the seat belt, telling me, "You are a special person whether you like it or not." Finally she left.

The flight was running about forty five minutes late, and passengers began to get anxious about making connecting flights. After landing, we deplaned onto the pavement as opposed to the terminal. I stopped to rearrange my purse and a half gallon of syrup I was carrying. I stopped by a parked truck, out of the way of other passengers. A man carrying a walkie-talkie grabbed me and said that since I was carrying a health cane I was not allowed on the field by myself and that I was detaining the other passengers. He became irate when I told him I did not need assistance into the airport, but I just wanted to rearrange the things I was carrying. This man screamed that he did not care what I wanted and then dragged me up some steps and into the terminal. He then pushed me and said, "Now, do it by yourself if you want to."

I made my next connection, Piedmont 875, and was seated when a flight attendant told me she had to take my cane and put it overhead. She explained that if I felt helpless without it and needed to get to the bathroom, she would get it down for me. We had the same conversation that I had had with Linda. It ended with her leaving to get assistance. Immediately, a male Piedmont employee arrived and began shouting that I was uncooperative. I replied, "You are the same man who pinched me."

He responded, "That's because you wouldn't cooperate." I explained that the cane was under the seat and would be less of a problem than the maple syrup would be. He said he did not care about the syrup, only the cane, and that if I didn't cooperate, I would be arrested and taken off of the plane. Since I did not give him the cane, he left. Bells began to ring and a siren began to blow. The same man returned telling me, "The captain said you could keep the cane." The man also told me that if the airplane crashed and anybody got hurt because of the cane, I would have to pay for his injuries.

After I arrived at Bradley International Airport terminal, two men came to me and said that they had been prepared to leave the plane with me if I had been arrested.