Ironically, on the day Johnnie Tuitel got kicked off a plane, he was on his way to a conference on self-advocacy.
Motivational speaker Johnnie Tuitel says, “I was one of the hottest stories in the world” — for about a week after being banned from flying US Airways.
The 48-year-old motivational speaker and author had been flying for years. Like many professionals, his job takes him around the country — and as a wheelchair user with cerebral palsy, he’s a seasoned veteran when it comes to traveling with a disability. So in December 2010, when he boarded a US Airways flight in West Palm Beach, Fla., to Kansas City, he wasn’t expecting any problems. The airline staff knew he depended on a power chair. “I did all the things with the chair that I needed to do,” he says. “The guy at the counter assured me that he would be at the gate to help me. He met me at the gate, put me in the aisle chair, wheeled me on board, placed me in my seat and said, ‘Have a good flight.’”
About 15 minutes later, though, Tuitel began sensing trouble. “Usually by then, I see folks getting on the plane — no one’s getting on the plane.” At that point, the US Airways employee who had helped Tuitel board reappeared with the aisle chair. “He says to me, ‘Mr. Tuitel, we have to talk.’”
Waiting for him back in the gate area was a cluster of airline staff and Tuitel’s partner, who had just seen him off on his trip. “The man who’d taken me off the plane turns to my partner and says, ‘Are you going to tell him?’ She says, ‘No — this wasn’t my idea.’ So he turns to me and says, ‘Mr. Tuitel, we have dete