Double Amputee Suing After American Airlines Forgot His Wheelchair, Kicked Him Off Flight

As soon as I saw the headline in this story, “American Airlines Called Cops on Double Amputee After Forgetting His Wheelchair, Lawsuit Says” my immediate reaction was: oh, Miami.

And just like the “Germany or Florida” game I guessed correctly.

As the American Airlines plane full of passengers looked on, two law enforcement officers escorted Michael Mennella — a double amputee with no feet — down the aisle and into the airport. They told him he was under arrest for extreme intoxication. But soon enough, the officers realized Mennella was sober. He’d simply hobbled down the aisle to ask for a drink on a flight that departed Miami without the wheelchair the airline had promised him.

American Airlines Regional Jet Gates, Miami

The passenger, who lost his feet in a car accident six years ago, has filed suit against American alleging that they failed to provide him the wheelchair he had requested so “he was forced to struggle down the jet bridge, which caused pain to flare up in his legs.”

During the flight he says he asked for water to go with his medication, but the request was refused. After “asking several times, he walked on his stumps to the back of the plane” to seek help from another flight attendant, whom he says ignored his request. Then he “struggled back to his seat.”

American diverted the flight to Dallas Fort Worth to deal with the man whom flight attendants reported to be “a drunk” and “intoxicated to the point of needing medical attention.”

American Eagle, Miami

After being removed from the aircraft at DFW, officers told Mr. Mennella “that he was being arrested for a felony due to his intoxication,” but then determined he wasn’t intoxicated at all. He flew onward to Las Vegas on a different flight.

In an email exchange with American Airlines customer service, included in the lawsuit, American explained that he was removed for “disruptive and unruly behavior” and that the airline believed the “pilot made the correct decision in this situation, and we apologize if you feel otherwise.”

American Airlines has “declined to comment on the specifics of Mennella’s case.”

Now, it wouldn’t surprise me if the passenger used “lewd language” as American apparently claimed —
after failing to receive assistance boarding or to obtain water from a flight attendant — but it’s unlikely that a passenger without feet was a significant threat to the safety of the aircraft.

I spoke to a reporter yesterday about the declining value of even top tier elite status with US airlines. I’m beginning to think the primary benefit of frequent flyer status isn’t in the published benefits, but a presumption from (some) employees that you’re less likely to be a threat to the aircraft.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. >>> I’m beginning to think the primary benefit of frequent flyer status isn’t in the published benefits, but a presumption from (some) employees that you’re less likely to be a threat to the aircraft. <<<

    And isn't that a scary thought!

  2. Wait… a disabled person MUST request a wheelchair beforehand? Didn’t they provide that at every airport? And NOBODY helped him at the airport even on air? The FA not even giving him a water? Is this really true?

  3. As a passenger who flies often with a disabled passenger, I can say that of the domestic airlines, AA is worst. So many stories.

  4. Really? There is no predeparture water service for coach class customers flying American Airlines, even when you “walk” to the galley on your amputated stumps and make a special request.

  5. I agree with @Larry above about AA being the worst. As a wheelchair-assist traveler, I too could list a litany of stories, the worst of which usually involve multiple last-minute gate changes and abandonment.

    @Cipta – yes, the wheelchair is requested in advance. It’s noted in the record and on the boarding pass. The fail was AA’s. I suspect it was one where they drop the pax at the gate and promise to come back with a chair to pick up for boarding (leaving the pax in regular seating area). When this has happened, I tell the GA that I can make it down the jetway with a huge head start (to not hold up others). In my case, and it sounds like his, we can manage while onboard without a special on-board chair. We get off the plane and there’s (usually) a wheelchair/attendant on the jetway.

    I feel terrible about the denial of water.

    But I feel worse when realizing that the call button has become a useless gadget on planes. If we’re too intimidated to use it, why not ditch the concept, like the “no smoking” overhead light?

  6. I fully agree that American Airlines acted shamefully.

    However, I am curious – if this happened in Aug 2016 – why is it being reported now? He should have sued American back then!!!

  7. These incidents shock me.
    Much like unjustified police shootings, this seems to be about poor training and then an airline bureaucracy/legal department that supports the poor decisions made by their flight crews.

    The pilot has some responsibility also.

    We need some adults in the room.

  8. im ashame of this people.i will never travel again in american airlines.there are no human rights¡?

  9. It would indeed be sweet if he smacks AA upside the head for a few million $. Sooner or later wouldn’t shareholders get tied of this and start chopping off heads?

  10. Where’s the video? There’s something being left out here. Like both sides of the story.

  11. All US airlines suck! UA & AA the worst of the worst. They are just out of control. The airport ticketing and gate agents are rude & condescending almost ALL THE TIME! They are specially mean to families with young child or children. They acted as if they didn’t know and didn’t care when i requested that my child is an autistic child and I needed early boarding. They break strollers and then won’t do anything. traveling solo or with family, they are just NOT IN TO CUSTOMER SERVICE! Wish we had far more competition on domestic market!

  12. “but it’s unlikely that a passenger without feet was a significant threat to the safety of the aircraft.”

    I can’t believe you’re such a foot-ist, Gary. The differently feeted are just as capable of threatening aircraft safety as anyone else!

  13. AA needs new management now. From the top to the bottom, along with a lot of their staff, they need someone to come in and make changes and anyone who does not fall in line, fire them on the spot. UA is second here and then Delta. I am not a big traveler these days, but it has been my experience that AA’s staff is the worst, UA is little more helpful but there call center people are off shore and only read from a script and do not have a clue as to what they are doing, DL’s staff is friendly and helpful, they try to what’s right, its the people at the top there that suck along with their devaluation of skypeso’s and making choose multiple layovers when booking with skypeso’s or charging them double skypeso’s for a more direct flight, even there are plenty of empty seats on the more direct flight.

  14. @ Take-A-Break, I 100% agree. The FA’s and gate agents for AA have been absolutely terrible recently, they need a huge attitude change and realize travelers are the ones paying their salaries! Crazy entitlement.

  15. The ‘original poster’ on Flyertalk wasn’t the source of the story (a lawsuit filed generated news reports, and those news reports were merely linked to there it appears). And while that person says the story was made up, there’s no link to a source suggesting that. American, which reads my blog, has not reached out with that claim either.

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