A Southwest Airlines passenger claimed Thursday that a gate agent denied early boarding for two special-needs athletes last month and then proceeded to mock them while they were waiting in line.
The alleged encounter took place Feb. 22, according to a tweet shared by the passenger.
Southwest told Fox News on Thursday night it was “disheartened” to hear the claims and vowed to investigate.
In the note – posted from the Twitter handle of Reign Athletics Dynasty, a competitive cheerleading organization based in Chicago – the passenger, apparently the team’s coach, claimed the athletes were trying to board a flight to Atlanta when the gate agent started to poke fun at the pair.
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“We had checked in with the desk to receive our disability boarding pass prior to lining up,” the tweet read. “When lined up, all other handicapped passengers were brought out into the plane. When it was our time to get on, the man checking in tickets looked at my sister and ‘HAHA I can do that with my hand too and say I’m disabled.’”
The tweet went on to allege other Southwest employees at the gate “started laughing” and then started allowing families and Group A passengers to board without letting the athletes on.
“I of course, flipped out and demanded to speak to someone in charge,” the tweet continued. “When this happened, another member looked at me and said ‘Are you disabled? No. Those two are clearly faking it to get on early.’”
The passenger’s sister – one of the athletes denied boarding – has cerebral palsy, and as a result, her left hand is noticeably impaired, as is the left side of her body, according to the writer.
“She has medical information on her at all times due to the shunts in her brain. I had this proof with me at the time,” the passenger wrote in the tweet.
However, despite the medical papers, the athletes allegedly had to wait to board.
The airline responded: “We were disheartened to read the description of the experience this group encountered while traveling with us to their competition. We have been in contact with the Customers to assure them that we are actively looking into the situation and will be providing them with a comprehensive response once we fully investigate. Our Employees are world-famous for offering warm and friendly Hospitality, and we sincerely apologize if this experience was anything less. We do not tolerate rude or demeaning behavior from any of our Employees, and we take these accusations very seriously.”
Southwest continued: “Regarding our policy, preboarding is available for Customers who have a specific seating need to accommodate their disability and/or need assistance in boarding the aircraft or stowing an assistive device. If a Customer with a disability simply needs a little extra time to board, we will permit the Customer to board before Family Boarding, between the ‘A’ and ‘B’ groups. We are following up with the Employees working this particular flight to emphasize our policies and procedures and underscore our expectations to offer all Customers the legendary Customer Service we’re known for—and especially Customers with disabilities.”
The passenger called out the Southwest employees for their complete “disregard for the disabled community.”
“I am an avid Southwest member and am mortified of this experience,” the tweet continued. “This is uncalled for in so many ways and my special needs athletes deserve justice for these actions.”
The passenger said Southwest offered a free drink coupon for the incident – but the passenger wrote that the athletes deserved more.
I’m sorry that your encounter with our Agents left you doubting our commitment to Customer Service. Would you mind sending me the confirmation number for your Team and Coaches in a DM so I can get more insight into this situation. -Dillon https://t.co/mQmfkXW4oV— Southwest Airlines (@SouthwestAir) March 7, 2019
“I am appalled that they had to waste money on an airline that would treat them this way.”
Southwest also replied to the tweet with a response.