“The crew seemed to know nothing about my disability”

Rosemarie Ericson broke her leg in several places while she was skiing in Austria — an unfortunate and painful injury. Doctors implanted metal plates and a dozen screws. But that may have been the easy part.

Getting home via Icelandair was the problem. And in just a few keystrokes, her problem became our problem.

“Nine days after the accident, I was cleared by my surgeon to fly, with the caveat that I keep my casted leg elevated as much as possible,” she says. “I was also being guarded carefully for the possibility of a deep-vein thrombosis – a life-threatening and somewhat common complication of injury, surgery, immobilization of a limb or long-distance air travel.”

And here’s where her vacation really went sideways.

Ericson let Icelandair know of her disability in writing, but the crew didn’t get the memo. She has all the details in a forum post.

“Unfortunately, the crew on the Munich-to-Reykjavik portion appeared to know nothing of my disability,” she says. “They apparently had no systems in place to ensure my safe transport — either while on board or in deplaning — and refused to make even minor, common-sense accommodations to avoid subjecting me to unnecessary risks and emotional trauma.”

Our advocacy team wanted to help, but quickly found ourselves in over our heads.

Let’s go straight to the Icelandair response:

I am deeply sorry to hear about what happened.

I can assure you that all assistance and communication was in place and I specially ordered wheelchair assistance which included that you were not able to walk stairs.

I can see that they swapped the aircraft at the last minute which flew you from Munich to Keflavik and therefore the seat arrangements changed. Row 25 is normally a regular row which has reclining seats and I did assign Laura in 25C, but unfortunately I can see that on that particular aircraft, that was operating the flight from Munich, does not have that seat.

I also put in a special message that you had to have your foot elevated during the travel and that you were on crutches.

We sincerely apologize for all of this and I will take this further to be investigated, so we can improve our services. Something went wrong here and we need to take a look at that further with all parties involved.

Again, I sincerely apologize and I can assure you that this is not the way we want our passengers to experience our services.

After some back-and-forth, Icelandair offered Ericson a $146 refund. She wants more:

1. To obtain compensation from Icelandair for the avoidable health risks and emotional trauma they caused me due to their lack of preparation for and poor communication about my physical limitations. (Some amount between the $2,700 we paid for our family’s three round-trip tickets and the $146 they’ve offered might be fair.)

2. To highlight the need for ALL European airlines and the bodies that regulate them to step up efforts to ensure that ALL disabled passengers are treated with care on board, minimizing the potential for new injuries and grave health risks that occur when the cabin crew is clearly unprepared and uneducated about appropriate systems.

We had paid Icelandair $2,700 months ago to ensure our safe transport to and from Europe. When I endured a serious accident in Europe, my family asked Icelandair to do everything reasonably possible to help me ensure that NOTHING would dislodge any portion of that extensive repair during my return flight, as a fall en route would be disastrous.

Icelandair needed to do only two easy things: Provide me the reclining row we had carefully chosen months earlier, and provide a wheelchair so that I could move safely across dangerous surfaces.

Now, if you keep reading that forum thread, you’ll see that the exchange did not go well. Not well at all.

Some of our advocates thought she was asking for too much. I imagine some of you reading this will agree.

An argument ensued. (Sample response from forum advocate: “If you needed a better seat, you could have upgraded to first class.”) And that led to our own existential crisis.

Here’s the email from Ericson that landed in my inbox:

While I thought I would get some excellent guidance in the forum re: advocacy (which I know from reading Chris’ column) — and I did receive some valuable information — I was shocked at the extent of the hostility and mean-spirited accusations leveled at me by your readers/members.

I’m a disabled person appealing to you for help, and rather than get the support I was hoping for, I’ve spent most of this week feeling as if my crutches have been repeatedly kicked out from under me. (Six weeks after my accident in Austria, I’m still unable to walk or to work.)

I’m now sorry that I ever agreed to post in the forum. Your letter below was so courteous and professional that I was sure I’d be treated well and supported in finding a solution. Instead, I have a horrible taste in my mouth re: everything about Christopher Elliott, and I regret sharing my name and my details with you.

Oh no.

We have a team of dedicated advocates who help answer cases from readers in our help forum. Part of their training has and always will be that we treat our readers with respect. Reading through the exchange, it’s clear that we missed the mark.

Our moderators stepped in several times to encourage everyone to behave — to keep things positive and helpful and to try to sympathize with Ericson. But it did little to change the outcome.

Now, don’t misunderstand me. The advocates were giving her hard truths about her rights when she flies (almost zero) and her chances of receiving a full refund (zero). But that’s the kind of thing we’d rather allow the airline to do. We’re not here to carry the industry’s water. They have their own apologists who can do that for them.

I’m keeping this thread on our forums for educational purposes. I’m sorry for how this turned out. Ericson will probably never forgive me or the forum for the way she was treated, but we can learn a lot from it.

Yes, it can feel good to tell a consumer “the truth.” You should have bought insurance. You should have read the fine print. You should have skied more carefully.

But that’s not why we’re here. We’re here to help. No more, no less.

In Ericson’s case, definitely no more.

Did Icelandair offer Rosemarie Ericson enough compensation?

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Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is an author, journalist and consumer advocate. You can read more about him on his personal website or check out his adventures on his family adventure travel site. Contact him at chris@elliott.org. Read more of Christopher's articles here.

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