Southwest Forces Disabled Man to Board Alone, Separates Him from Cancer-Stricken Wife

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On the website for Southwest Airlines, under the link for Frequently Asked Questions, the budget carrier lays out the protocol for disabled patrons and the boarding process, stating:

“We will allow one travel companion to act as an “attendant” and pre-board with a customer with a disability.”

But one Nebraska couple says their holiday travel experience didn’t come close to that.

Terry Podraza, a disabled customer traveling from Omaha, Neb. to Fredericksburg, Va., says he was separated from his cancer-stricken wife after Southwest refused to allow Kathy Podraza to pre-board with her husband.

“He (the gate agent) told us that me having pre-boarding and being handicapped, that it was against the law for her to board at the same time as me,” said Terry Podraza, according to Fox 5 in Washington D.C.

Southwest 737 MAX 8. (Image courtesy of Southwest)

Terry needed to use his cane to board by himself. Kathy, whom her husband said had stage four colon and liver cancer, ended up being one of the last passengers to board the flight to visit their daughter and grandchild in Virginia.

The Podrazas, who were initially reluctant to take the trip at all, said their travel experience was marred by the actions of the gate agent – although Kathy admitted that one compassionate flight attendant helped calm her nerves by mixing her a mimosa, a drank made of champagne and orange juice.

Fox 5 was able to reach out to Southwest Airlines, which issued the following statement: “Because it’s important to Southwest that this concern is given our full attention, this situation has been given to a specialist for further review. We assure you that any missed opportunities will be thoroughly addressed.”

Terry Podraza said he attempted to contact Southwest’s customer relations but received an automatic reply saying it would take up to 30 days before he receives an answer.

Southwest’s website noted that customers with disabilities are not required to provide advance notice of the need for assistance, but “doing so helps us better prepare for the number of Customers who will need our help. We give Customers the opportunity to proactively notify Southwest Airlines of any specific disability-related needs during and after booking on”

Southwest also offers Non-Passenger Escort (NPE) passes to individuals who have not booked travel but are needed to help the disabled traveler.

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