CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) - Lori Watkins and her 15-year-old son, Seph Ware, claim they have traveled from their home in Lynchburg, Virginia, through the Charlotte-Douglas International Airport several times. Recently, though, the family says they've been having issues with their travel experiences.
Ware has muscular dystrophy and sometimes has difficulty maneuvering without a wheelchair or power chair. The teen can still walk, but cannot climb up or down stairs.
Watkins said they have encountered issues flying into the CLT airport because the only way to deplane has been via the stairs leading from the aircraft. She thinks part of the issue is that they are flying from a small airport into a very large one so passengers are released onto the tarmac rather than directly into a terminal. The concerned mother said she has tried to make advanced requests for ramps to be available upon their planes' arrival at CLT, but said she has been unsuccessful thus far.
The most recent example of the debacle took place last Wednesday when Watkins and Ware landed in Charlotte. Watkins said she tried to request a ramp in advance of the flight as she's done before, but claims there wasn't a ramp available when their plane landed.
"We land and we're all the way in the back so we wait for people to get out," said Ware. "When everyone is out we go to the front and the ramp is not there so we just sit down and wait more."
They said they waited for workers to bring a ramp for 10 to 15 minutes before deciding they needed to leave in order to make their next flight.
"I have to sit down and scooch all the way down from the stairs," explained Ware. "This is the fourth time it's happened and it's kind of humiliating to have to do that."
The family members told WBTV they have been on American Airlines flights every time this has happened and the incidents always take place when flying into Charlotte from Virginia.
American Airlines sent WBTV the following statement regarding the most recent incident.
We take this situation very seriously and make every effort to accommodate all of our passengers. In this particular incident, while there was not a ramp immediately available due to the flight arriving early, our team was able to bring one over before at the scheduled arrival time but the passenger had already deplaned. We are working with our vendors and regional partners to ensure we follow up on this issue and are in contact directly with the customer.
Watkins posted about the latest incident on social media to let others know about what happened.
"I was furious," Watkins told WBTV. "I was very diligent in making sure that they (American Airlines) knew that there had been problems in the past, making sure that it was on our dossier that he needed a ramp, that he couldn't do stairs."
She said she doesn't like the airline's response that the flight being early was the reason why a ramp wasn't available. She said her son already has the beginning stages of osteoporosis and sliding down the stairs on his backside could cause him to receive spinal compressions.
Both family members hope that sharing their story will force airlines to make sure incidents like the ones they have experienced will no longer happen.
"The airlines need to be held accountable to implement the law," said Watkins. "It's 2018. There is no reason that an airport the size of Charlotte, isn't equipped to handle disabled passengers."
According to the federal Air Carrier Access Act, ramps or mechanical lifts must be available for aircraft with 19 or more seats when level-entry boarding is not available on the plane.
A representative from the CLT airport referred WBTV to American Airlines for comment on this story.
Watkins said she is consulting an attorney about possibly taking legal action regarding the matter.