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Blind Attorney: Airlines Treat Handicapped ‘Like Baggage’

April 2, 1988

WASHINGTON (AP) _ A blind attorney who was carried forcibly from a jetliner after a dispute over where she should be seated complains that airlines look at the handicapped ″as if we’re a safety risk and have to be treated like baggage.″

The attorney, Peggy Pinder, said Friday she is still angry over an incident Thursday evening aboard a Midway Airlines jetliner waiting to take off from Washington’s National Airport on a flight to Chicago.

After boarding, she said, she sat in a window seat in the second row from the back of the cabin in the smoking section. But she was told to move to the first row in the front of the cabin because she is blind and needed to be closer to a full-door emergency exit.

When she refused, arguing that there are no federal safety regulations that require her to sit in a particular seat, police were summoned and carried her off the plane. She was charged with trespassing.

″It was embarrassing,″ Miss Pinder, 34, an attorney from Grinnell, Iowa, and a vice president of the National Federation of the Blind, said in an interview. ″They told the police to carry me off and they did.″

She insisted that she sought no confrontation and wanted only to return to her hometown when the dispute erupted aboard Midway Flight 179 as it prepared to depart for Chicago.

The flight was delayed about 45 minutes because of the confrontation, according to airport officials.

Ironically, Miss Pinder had flown to Washington to meet with several members of Congress and officials of the Republican Party platform committee to discuss problems blind people are having in air travel.

She said she was told by a flight attendant that she could not sit at the rear of the aircraft even though her seat did not block access to any emergency exit doors because of the airlines’ policy on dealing with handicapped passengers.

″Then the captain came. He said, ‘You will do what the flight attendant tells you and sit where you’re told or not fly on this airplane.’,″ she recounted.

She refused to budge and airport police were called to carry her off the plane, according to accounts related by airline and airport officials as well as Miss Pinder.

″They (airline officials) feel that blind people are not the same as other passengers, that we’re a safety risk and that we have to be treated like baggage in order to carry us safely,″ said Miss Pinder. ″That’s not federal law. They violated my rights.″

She has been summoned to appear at an arraignment on the trespass charge May 19.

FAA spokesman Fred Farrar said the FAA has no requirements on where blind passengers should be seated, although the agency has recomended that they not be seated in a row that has an emergency exit. Miss Pinder said she sat in a row with no such exit.

A Midway Airlines spokeswoman, Sandra Allen, said that the airline has a firm policy of seating handicapped passengers, including those who are blind, on the front row of the aircraft cabin because those seats are closest to a floor-level emergency door.

Responding to the incident involving Miss Pinder, Miss Allen said ″she refused to be briefed (on safety procedures) and maintained she could sit where she wanted ... We could not take off seated where she was and asked her to step off (the plane) because she was inconveniencing 100 passengers.″

Because of her confrontation Thursday night she remained in the capital another day and on Friday accompanied several other officials of the National Federation of the Blind to a meeting with Transportation Secretary Jim Burnley to discuss alleged discrimination against the handicapped by the airlines, a spokewoman for the federation said.

The Federal Aviation Administration, which is part of the department, is developing new regulations aimed at giving the airlines closer guidance on how to provide for the handicapped, but those regulations are not expected to be announced for several months.

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