A Hawaii man has filed a lawsuit against Delta Air Lines claiming that in July 2012 he had to crawl across the tarmac while travelling to and from Nantucket because the airline failed to accommodate a severe disability that left him unable to use his legs.
According to the suit, filed July 23 in US District Court in Hawaii, D. Baraka Kanaan was "forced to crawl across an airport tarmac, up and down the stairs of an airplane, down the aisle of the aircraft and out of and into his seat" while boarding a flight last summer from Maui to Nantucket and again when boarding a return flight from Nantucket to Maui, where Kanaan lives.
"Kanaan suffers from paraparesis, a condition that was brought on by severe spinal injuries suffered in a vehicle accident in 2000" leaving him unable to walk, Kanaan's attorneys, Richard Holcomb and Brian Brazier of Honolulu-based Holcomb Law LLLC, wrote in the 18-page complaint.
The complaint alleges that Kanaan called Delta "several weeks in advance of his flight" to inform the airline of his disability and ensure the provision of a wheelchair for the airplane's aisle and lift access to board and exit the plane "because he cannot walk."
Despite this, upon arriving at Nantucket Airport, Kanaan was allegedly informed that Delta did not have an aisle chair or a lift, so he was forced to crawl out of the airplane and across the tarmac to his personal wheelchair.
"They basically watched me crawl," said Kanaan during a phone interview.
Kanaan then called the Delta disability desk to file a complaint and ensure the proper equipment would be available for his return flight from Nantucket to Maui on July 29, 2012, the suit said.
However, according to the suit, the proper equipment was again unavailable for Kanaan's return flight, and he was again forced to crawl across the tarmac, up the stairs of the airplane and down the aisle to his seat.
Kanaan said he used his upper body strength to pull and drag himself across the tarmac and up and down the stairs to the plane.
He said Delta employees refused to physically assist him because they did not want to be held liable for any injury.
"It was a completely absurd situation," said Kanaan, a poet and the founder of an educational nonprofit organization called the Lovevolution Foundation.
Shortly after the incident, Kanaan spoke with a Delta disability desk representative as well as a Delta corporate spokeswoman, both of whom offered him SkyMiles as restitution, according to the complaint.
Delta can't comment on pending litigations, Delta spokesman Eric Torbenson said during a phone call.
Delta had not filed a response in federal court by Sunday evening, according to the US District Court online filing system.
In response to a YouTube video that shows Kanaan standing and walking onstage at a convention that took place in 2006, six years after his accident, Kanaan said he underwent spinal treatments that allowed him to walk with a cane for a period of time.
But he said he has been in a wheelchair for the past five years and currently uses an electric wheelchair to get around.
"I don't have anything to hide," Kanaan said of his decision not to remove any of his videos from YouTube. "I want to be treated humanely."
Kanaan said he has since flown from Maui to Nantucket on Cape Air, whose personnel were eager and "totally" willing to assist him.
Kanaan is asking for a jury trial and judgment that Delta violated his rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Air Carrier Access Act, according to the lawsuit.
He is seeking compensatory and punitive damages, according to the suit.
"We are appalled by the treatment of Mr. Kanaan by Delta Air Lines, and this is not the first instance of misconduct by Delta Air Lines towards disabled people, and we hope in Mr. Kanaan's case, he can be vindicated in court," said Brian Brazier, one of Kanaan's attorneys.
A scheduling conference is set for October 21 in the US District Court in Hawaii, according to court documents.