Woman in wheelchair sues American Airlines after having to crawl onto plane

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A woman who says she was forced to crawl onto a plane is now suing American Airlines for damages. (KTRK)

A woman in a wheelchair has filed a lawsuit against American Airlines after she says she was forced to crawl onto a plane, KHON-TV reports.

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. Purcell has a neurological disorder known as Charcot-Marie-Tooth's disease that keeps her in a wheelchair. She says in order to board the flight, she was forced to get out her wheelchair and crawl up all the way to her seat, without any assistance from the airline.

"I (said) 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," Purcell told KHON-TV. "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."

"I was humiliated. It was embarrassing to have 50-something people watch you crawl into a plane"

The airline did apologize for the incident, releasing a statement to KHON-TV:
    "On behalf of US Airways and American Airlines, please accept our apologies for the difficulties Ms. Purcell experienced with her request for level entry boarding. It is imperative to provide essential care and to have a sensitive approach when assisting our passengers who have special needs.

    We regret that a ramp was not requested so Ms. Purcell would be able to board the aircraft without going up the stairs, assistance should should have been provided shortly thereafter. Based on what you've shared, it appears our employees didn't provide the the attentive, courteous and professional service we expect as a company. I understand how the way you are treated can affect your impression of our" airline and sympathize with your displeasure.

    After review of the facts, American Airlines admits they were in violation of CFR 14 Part 382 for not having provided level entry boarding as requested."

However, Purcell says the airline refused to compensate her for her flight.

Purcell frequently travels and says she's never had this type of problem before. Now, she's suing to make sure it doesn't happen again.

"You wouldn't want to watch your family member crawl on to a plane. I mean, come on, this is America," Purcell told KHON-TV. "I'm just saying there's always a way."

The lawsuit seeks a $2.5 million settlement, but Purcell's attorney tells KHON-TV if the case goes to trial, she'll seek between $6 and $8 million.

American Airlines has not commented on the pending legal action.

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