Delta Airlines Tied Woman With Multiple Sclerosis to Wheelchair Using a Dirty Blanket, Family Says

The family of a woman suffering from multiple sclerosis says employees with Delta Airlines tied her to a wheelchair with a used and dirty blanket.

According to WSB-TV in Atlanta, Maria Saliagas travels to Europe once a year with her husband. Five years ago, she was diagnosed with MS, but the yearly tradition stayed alive.

Usually, Saliagas is accommodated by way of a specialized and appropriate wheelchair with straps that help her to sit up straight. When Saliagas traveled to Amsterdam earlier this month, however, Delta apparently forgot about–or ignored–the necessity of that specialized chair.

Instead, Saliagas was placed in a normal wheelchair and strapped in with a blanket that had previously been used by someone else, according to her son, Nathan Saliagas. In comments to WSB-TV, he said:

They took a dirty blanket and tied her forcefully with it and she has bruise marks on part of her arm because it was so tight and she started crying. That’s when that picture was taken.

The younger Saliagas said he pre-planned his parents’ trip–like he does every year–by making sure Delta had the appropriate chair, but when the couple landed in Amsterdam, the promised chair was not available. He continued, “I definitely know that they’re a good airline, I’m not doubting that at all. In this specific situation there was no courtesy, no respect. There was complete operations failure.”

In further comments to Law&Crime, Nathan Saliagas noted that the family is currently considering legal action against Delta–conditioned on how they respond to his family’s requests after the issue has been publicized. So far, Delta’s response has been less than persuasive.

After an initial media outcry in Atlanta, a representative with Delta issued the following carefully-worded apology:

We regret the perception our service has left on these customers. We have reached out to them, not only to resolve their concerns, but also ensure that their return flight exceeds expectations.

Nathan Saliagas dismissed Delta’s attempted apology.

“I don’t think a single person can look at that image and somehow misinterpret or perceive the image in the wrong way,” he said. “I think Delta’s ‘apology’ is more of a ‘we can’t be bothered’ sort of stance. It’s a highly inappropriate way of handling PR.”

After complaining about the incident, Delta apparently offered the family 20,000 free SkyMiles. (For what it’s worth, the Delta SkyMiles program has little transparency as to the intrinsic value of SkyMiles points. According to an independent analysis of the program, Delta SkyMiles are subject to wild swings in their purchasing power and there’s quite simply no such thing as a “regular price” when using SkyMiles to purchase plane tickets. By any estimation, however, 20,000 SkyMiles would not cover any leg of any international flights offered by the airline.)

The family declined Delta’s SkyMiles offer and instead wants the airline to focus on improving their policies for all mobility-impaired customers. In comments to Law&Crime, Nathan Saliagas elaborated on that request. He said:

I think the issue here is firstly, there is a lack of understanding of the most common paralyzing and immobilizing diseases. There needs to be training done on this so that Delta and other airlines are aware of the additional symptoms of these diseases; they can significantly alter what one passenger may need versus the other. Moreover, I think Delta should bring disability services in house, like many other airlines already do.

When asked whether the family might avoid Delta in the future, Nathan Saliagas said it was exceedingly difficult to do so when flying out of Atlanta, because of Delta’s near-monopoly on flights there. Still, he said, since this is the family’s second unfortunate incident with the airline, his mom and dad might decide to “travel less frequently and pay more for a European airline.”

[image via Nathan Saliagas with permission]

Follow Colin Kalmbacher on Twitter: @colinkalmbacher

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