DC activist forced to crawl off airplane

head and shoulder shot of young AFrican American man with glasses, D'Arcee Neal
D’Arcee Neal

It had been nearly 45 minutes.

D’Arcee Neal, a 29-year-old man with cerebral palsy, just wanted to get off his United Airlines flight and use the bathroom, after waiting for the 5-hour duration between San Francisco and his hometown, Washington D.C.

Finally, after repeated requests for someone to provide an aisle-size wheelchair, Neal had had enough. He removed himself from his seat and dragged himself the 50 feet into the terminal.

“Honestly, I expected the flight attendants [to help me] once they saw that I have a disability, once they knew that I had to use the bathroom,” Neal told the Washington Post about the October 20 incident. “The next words out of their mouths should have been: ‘How can we assist you? What can we do to make that possible?’

“I’m not going to use the airplane bathroom when a perfectly acceptable [wheelchair accessible] bathroom was 10 feet from the door to the terminal. If you could just let me off this plane, then I could go to the bathroom the regular way instead of you trying to cram me into this closet. So at that point I got out of my chair and onto the floor and started crawling up the aisle. One of the flight attendants turned around and was like, ‘Oh, you can’t be serious.’”

A United Airlines representative called Neal the next evening to apologize and provide him a $300 travel voucher, CNN reports. The call came in response to a complaint from one of the flight attendants.

The story has attracted national and even international attention. But for Neal, a long-time activist with United Cerebral Palsy, the treatment he’s received in online comments is as humiliating as anything that happened on the airline.

“There is a contingent of the Internet thinks that I’m faking or I’m opportunistic and I just want to get paid. Somebody even said that I was doing it to raise the profile of Black Lives Matter, which I was really offended by,” Neal, who is black, told the Washington Post.

However, Neal’s story is far from unique.

“In 2014 there were over 27,500 complaints in reference to things like this, so it is not uncommon,” Dara Baldwin, an attorney with the National Disability Rights Network, told NBC News. “I hate to say that.”

A Washington Post interview with Neal can be seen here.

Disability Rights Washington, publisher of Rooted in Rights, is the designated protection and advocacy agency for Washington, and is a member of the National Disability Rights Network.