GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — A motivational speaker with cerebral palsy said he was humiliated when he was kicked off a U.S. Airways flight after being told he was too disabled to fly alone.
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"I was raised to believe I could grow up doing what I wanted to do and it didn't lead me to any entitlement," Johnnie Tuitel, 47, told The Grand Rapids Press for a story Saturday. "By them denying me the ability to fly, I couldn't do my job."
Tuitel, 47, of Grand Rapids Township, Michigan, said he has flown over 500,000 miles to give motivational speeches, but he missed one because of the Sept. 23 incident at Palm Beach International Airport in Florida.
After helping him into his seat aboard a flight from West Palm Beach to Kansas City, a U.S. Airways gate agent returned and wheeled Tuitel back to the terminal, he said.
"He told me I could fly on U.S. Airways if I could find a companion to go with me because I was a danger to myself and others if something went wrong," Tuitel told WZZM-TV. "Trust me, they made a mistake."
Tuitel flew solo two days later on another airline, but by then he had missed the speech he was scheduled to give at the 2010 National Self Advocacy Conference.
U.S. Airways spokeswoman Valerie Wunder said the gate agent was following company policy.
"The airline requires that the passenger has to be physically able to assist himself or herself in the event of an emergency. If the passenger cannot, the airline requires that someone else travels with the passenger who can provide assistance in the event of an emergency," she told the television station.
Tuitel, who refers to himself as "America's pioneer handicapitalist" on his website, said he has contacted U.S. Airways officials and plans to meet with them in coming weeks to discuss his concerns with the company policy.
He said he hopes the company will change its policy to include a personal discussion with each person who buys a ticket so they know what to expect and eliminate any embarrassment.
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