American Airlines vs. the Vet

Earlier this week, for a story on msnbc.com’s Overhead Bin, I talked with Dawn Wilcox, a disabled veteran from Kileen, Texas who claims American Airlines employees did not help her when she told them she needed to use the restroom on a flight between LaGuardia Airport and Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport last Saturday, Oct. 29.

Wilcox said she had informed the flight attendants shortly before landing that she needed to be taken off the plane first so that she could go to the bathroom.

“They landed and started letting people off,” said Wilcox. “I said, ‘Ma’am, I’m really about to go in my pants.’ I was almost in tears. They’d already let three quarters of the people off and it was too late, I’d already wet my pants.”

In a statement about the incident, American Airlines said it reached out to Wilcox and apologized to her for her “discomfort and overall experience with us.” But the airline also said it was looking into this event further because flight attendants reported a different version of the story.

On Wednesday, an American Airlines representative got in touch with me to let me know what their investigation turned up.

Here’s their statement:

Since Ms. Wilcox’s request came during the aircraft’s decent into DFW – a time when everyone must remain seated for safety – American’s flight attendants offered specific assistance to Ms. Wilcox, telling her they would use the special, onboard wheelchair (they are carried onboard all our aircraft) to take her to one of the aircraft lavatories just as soon as the aircraft reached the gate and before any other passengers deplaned.

Ms. Wilcox declined that offer of assistance, saying she preferred to use her personal wheelchair to reach a restroom in the terminal. Flight attendants reminded her that her wheelchair was stowed in the cargo compartment of the aircraft and that it would take some time to unload it and bring it up to her – which would further compound her urgent need to get to a restroom. Ms. Wilcox nonetheless insisted on waiting for her personal wheelchair.

There are other facts about Ms. Wilcox’s travel, while not directly related to the onboard incident described above, that call into question the credibility of her public statements and allegations.”

Those “other facts,” including the discovery that Wilcox requested and received a bereavement fare to attend a family funeral that was not happening, do seem to poke some holes in this story.

Perhaps the Department of Transportation will end up doing its own inquiry of this incident.

In the meantime, here’s a link to the DOT rules that spell out the responsibilities of travelers, airlines and airports regarding the needs of disabled fliers.