Southwest Airlines is contending with allegations, made via Twitter, that gate agents accused special-needs cheerleaders of faking their disabilities and stopped them from pre-boarding.
“We were disheartened to read the description of the experience this group encountered while traveling with us to their competition,” Chris Mainz, a spokesperson for Southwest, told USA TODAY. “Our employees are world-famous for offering warm and friendly hospitality, and we sincerely apologize if this experience was anything less. We do not tolerate rude or demeaning behavior from any of our employees, and we take these accusations very seriously.”
The tweets, reportedly written by the sister of a cheerleader from Reign Athletes Dynasty, an Illinois-based competitive cheerleading squad, have since been deleted.
According to the International Business Times, on Feb. 22nd, the group tried boarding its Atlanta-bound flight early, with disability boarding passes. “When lined up, all other handicapped passengers were brought out into the plane. When it was our time to get on, the man checking in tickets looked at my sister and [said] ‘HAHA I can do that with my hand too and say I’m disabled,’” wrote the sister.
Coworkers of the gate agent, who allowed children to board first, began laughing. “I of course, flipped out and demanded to speak to someone in charge,” wrote the sister. “When this happened, another member looked at me and said ‘Are you disabled? No. Those two are clearly faking it to get on early.’”
The sister has cerebral palsy, which affects movement on one side of her body, as well as shunts in her brain. She had the paperwork to support her needs, reported the International Business Times, but waited until families and other disabled fliers boarded first.
I’m sorry that your encounter with our Agents left you doubting our commitment to Customer Service. Would you mind sending me the confirmation number for your Team and Coaches in a DM so I can get more insight into this situation. -Dillon https://t.co/mQmfkXW4oV
— Southwest Airlines (@SouthwestAir) March 7, 2019
Southwest showed a “complete disregard for the disabled community,” wrote the woman, claiming the airline only responded with free drinks coupons. “I am disgusted that someone thinks having a free drink would make up for the experience we had.”
No one from Reign Athletes Dynasty returned Yahoo Lifestyle’s request for comment. The airline tweeted, on Thursday, “I’m sorry that your encounter with our agents left you doubting our commitment to customer service. Would you mind sending me the confirmation number for your team and coaches in a DM so I can get more insight into this situation.” That prompted the first in a series of tweets from Reign Athletes Dynasty:
The athlete involved has cerebral palsy and needed extra time to get down the ramp and into her seat. She does not walk the way a non-disabled person does. She is in no way was demanding about the benefits she receives or gave the disabled community a bad reputation in any way.
— Reign Athletics Dynasty (@reign_dynasty) March 8, 2019
Southwest did not respond to an email from Yahoo Lifestyle. According to a statement provided to Fox News, “Regarding our policy, preboarding is available for customers who have a specific seating need to accommodate their disability and/or need assistance in boarding the aircraft or stowing an assistive device. If a customer with a disability simply needs a little extra time to board, we will permit the customer to board before family boarding, between the ‘A’ and ‘B’ groups. We are following up with the employees working this particular flight to emphasize our policies and procedures and underscore our expectations to offer all customers the legendary customer service we’re known for—and especially customers with disabilities.”
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