It took over 3 years but a jury found Alaska Airlines 90% responsible for a woman’s death after she pushed her own wheelchair down an escalator, causing “traumatic head and chest injuries, along with an infection from an Achilles tendon injury.” Her remaining leg (she only had one left) was amputated but she died anyway, three months after the fall.
Alaska Airlines has been ordered to pay $3.19 million to the woman’s family for failing to provide an escort for the woman between connecting flights.
The original story from December 30, 2017 is below:
A family is suing Alaska Airlines for killing grandma.
The 75 year old woman “tumbled down an escalator in the Portland, Oregon, airport in a wheelchair” giving her injuries which required surgeries, and ultimately three months later the woman died. She was supposed to have someone pushing her in a wheelchair but surveillance footage shows her moving herself through the terminal alone.
Warning: this footage is disturbing, she’s shown pushing herself in her wheelchair down an escalator. Apparently her vision and mental faculties were limited and she thought she was heading into an elevator. She takes a tumble and injures herself greatly.
The incident happened in June when her family returned from a vacation in Hawaii.
She suffered trauma to her head and chest, a cut to her Achilles tendon and gashes on the side of her face. Several months later, her leg was amputated because of a wound to her tendon.
Kekona died the next day.
Alaska says that the woman “declined ongoing assistance in the terminal and decided to proceed on her own to her connecting flight” and says there were no notes in her reservation “cognitive, visual or auditory impairments” that would make it dangerous for her to do so.
My first thought when I heard this story was it’s the first I’ve heard of a passenger being permitted to take a wheelchair on their own without the attendant, how would the wheelchair have been returned? But she was assisted by the contractor on arrival into her own motorized wheelchair not into an airport wheelchair. And if the woman told the employee not to help her, that she could get herself to her connecting gate on her own in her electric vehicle, they would have left her to do so.
Here’s Alaska Airlines’ statement:
We’re heartbroken by this tragic and disturbing incident. After landing in Portland, Ms. Kekona was assisted into her own motorized scooter by an airport consortium wheelchair service provider who then escorted her from the aircraft into the concourse. Once in the concourse, she went off on her own. We learned from bystanders that Ms. Kekona sustained a fall while attempting to operate her own electronic chair down a moving escalator next to the A concourse elevator. We immediately called the Port of Portland Fire and Rescue, along with Port of Portland Police, who responded to the scene quickly to provide her medical treatment.
..We don’t have all the facts, but after conducting a preliminary investigation, it appears that Ms. Kekona declined ongoing assistance in the terminal and decided to proceed on her own to her connecting flight. It also appears that when her family members booked the reservation, they did not check any of the boxes for a passenger with “Blind/low vision,” “Deaf/hard of hearing,” or “Other special needs (i.e., developmental or intellectual disability, senior/elderly).” So, there was no indication in the reservation that Ms. Kekona had cognitive, visual, or auditory impairments.
Horrible all around. I’m not sure what Alaska’s contractor providing escort service should have done in this case. You want people to remain as independent as possible, but I wonder about the family sending this grandmother off to travel alone relying on the airline’s contractor to care for her.
I think I’d have wanted to fly with her if she were my own family, and if that wasn’t possible I don’t think I’d take the chance on the journey. Is that awful to say?