A double-amputee says that his gait was a bit wobbly after American Airlines failed to provide him with a wheelchair, but that what happened next was downright cruel.
Michael Mennella was understandably a bit unsteady on his feet by the time he arrived at the gate to board his American Airlines flight from Miami International Airport (MIA) to Las Vegas McCarran International Airport (LAS) in August of last year. The airline had allegedly failed to provide him with a requested wheelchair, forcing the double-amputee to make his own way to his seat on the plane.
According to legal filings obtained by The Miami New Times, things went from bad to worse for Mennella, who lost his feet in a car accident six years earlier, when the flight made an unscheduled stop at Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport (DFW), where he was escorted from the plane by police. At first, officers told Mennella that he would be arrested for a felony after the crew reported that he was visibly intoxicated, forcing the captain to divert the plane, but after speaking with Mennella and performing a series of sobriety tests, police were not convinced that he had been drinking at all.
A lawsuit filed in a Miami Federal court claims that Menella was attempting to get some water to take medication when his mobility issues caused flight attendants to unjustifiably assume that he was drunk. According to court papers, the reason that the falsely accused passenger needed medication in the first place was due to the fact that the airline’s refusal to provide him with a wheelchair had caused his injured legs to become inflamed.
Mennella is suing the airline for defamation for being removed from the flight allegedly because American Airlines employees told authorities that he was “intoxicated to the point of needing medical attention.” Menella’s attorneys referred to the airline’s actions as “damaging” and “negligent” in legal papers.
“As demonstrated by police-administered field tests, and as revealed in an official field report, Mr. Mennella was not intoxicated,” the lawsuit contends. “Instead, he was an innocent victim of AA’s brutish misconduct.”
To add insult to injury, when the Florida business traveler complained about his treatment, airline officials were apparently less than sympathetic. The carrier reiterated its accusations that the disabled passenger had been disruptive and unruly and had used foul language. American Airlines officials initially stood by the captain’s decision to have Mennella removed, calling the actions ”for the safety of all passengers.”
“We believe our pilot made the correct decision in this situation and we apologize if you feel otherwise,” the airline told Mennella in an email included with court filings.
In a statement, American Airlines declined to comment on the pending lawsuit filed by Michael Mennella, but the carrier did tell the New Times’ Brittany Shammas that the company “is committed to providing a positive and safe travel experience to all of its customers and looks forward to addressing his concerns.”