Paraplegic passenger says he had to scoot down United plane aisle on bottom

CHICAGO -- A paraplegic passenger who relies on a wheelchair said he was forced, on multiple occasions, to scoot down his plane's aisle while traveling on United Airlines with his wife for their honeymoon because of a lack of proper equipment.

High school football coach Tyler Schilhabel said the problems began when he landed at O'Hare for a layover between Los Angeles and the Dominican Republic. He said he almost missed his connection because he was late getting off the plane.

United Airlines, he said, did not immediately have available an aisle chair which helps passengers with disabilities navigate a plane's narrow aisles.

"One of the flight attendants, who knew that I was in a rush and the aisle chair wasn't there, he actually picked me up, lifted me and put me into my normal chair so that I could make my connecting flight," Schilhabel said.

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When Schilhabel and his wife landed in the Caribbean there were more problems deplaning.

"I had to scoot on my bottom all the way to the front of the plane, and when we realized there wasn't a ramp or anything else, my wife and I just decided, no, it's not safe. We don't trust them to carry me down the flight of stairs, so we just hopped down. She grabbed my legs, and I hopped down step by step on my bottom," he said.

Getting home from the honeymoon was also an ordeal. When the couple landed in O'Hare for their connection there was once again no aisle chair.

"We had a connecting flight, still had to get through customs, so I scooted on my bottom all 31 rows to the front of the plane, got on my chair, got through customs," said Schilhabel.

United released a statement Monday, saying in part, "We are proud to operate an airline that doesn't just include people with disabilities but welcomes them as customers ... That said, this incident falls far short of our own high standard."

United said it is in contact with Schilhabel to apologize, and called these types of incidents extremely rare.

Schilhabel said he went public with his experience in an effort to fix the problem. He said he notified the airline well in advance about the accommodations he needed.

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