Wheelchair-bound woman forced to crawl onto plane

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A wheelchair-bound woman who was forced to crawl onto a plane officially filed a lawsuit Friday morning against American Airlines.

Theresa Purcell was taking a commuter flight from San Diego when the agent at the gate told her it was too late to set up a ramp so she can board.

Instead, Purcell had to get off her wheelchair and crawl all the way to her seat.

“So when I asked that I can’t walk up on the stairs, and then she was like, so how you going get on the plane then? And I was like, oh wow,” said Purcell. “I crawled up onto the steps. I crawled into the plane. There was no other way for me to get on the plane so I crawled up to the plane.”

The airline has apologized for the incident, but Purcell says that’s not enough. She wants to make sure nothing like this ever happens again.

Through the lawsuit, she and her attorney feel they could teach American Airlines a lesson.

“I was humiliated. It was embarrassing to have 50-something people watch you crawl into a plane,” Purcell said.

Purcell, a Farrington High school graduate, has a bone disease that keeps her in a wheelchair. She’s a hip-hop artist who flies all the time and makes requests regularly to have a ramp or a wheelchair lift to help her board the plane.

This was the first time she had flown American Airlines. She says she let them know ahead of time that she would need a ramp and was shocked when they told her it was too late to do it.

“There was a ramp right next to the plane and she was like, ‘Oh, it’s too late,’ so I was like ‘Okay, so we can’t just, the ramp is right there. Can’t you guys just push it right here so I can get on?’ and she’s like, ‘Oh, I’m sorry,” Purcell said.

Purcell’s attorney wrote a letter asking for compensation and the airline responded by saying:

“Thank you for your letter of demand on behalf of Theresa Purcell. American Airlines will not be issuing any compensation for your client’s injuries claim.”

“You wouldn’t want to watch your family member crawl on to a plane. I mean, come on, this is America,” Purcell said. “I’m just saying there’s always a way.”

She still flies, although never again with American Airlines, but says the incident keeps haunting her.

“Is today another time where I have to climb onto an airplane again, where all these people have to watch me embarrass myself again, and I gotta be there, hoping please, I hope I never see these people again?” Purcell said.

The lawsuit asks for general damages in excess of the jurisdictional minimum of $75,000 exclusive of interests and cost, as well as punitive and other damages.

We’ve reached out to American Airlines but have not heard back.

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