by Steve Angeles, ABS-CBN News
WALNUT, CA — Family members claim that 94-year-old Paz Orquiza was forced out of her business class seat on her United Airlines flight, just before takeoff.
They say the flight attendant would not allow her economy-seated daughter, Rose Benedicto, to assist her during the flight from Australia to the US.
“She’s a happy person. She never complains, she could feed herself, use the restroom by herself. She just needed someone to walk her to the restroom and then walk her back to the seat,” said Orquiza’s granddaughter, Maricelle Ortiz-Luis. “She can feed herself; she just needs someone to open food containers, because of her arthritic hands, and she just needed to recline her seat.”
Family members pooled together some $3500 to get the elderly, disabled Orquiza a business class seat — where she could be comfortable for the 16 hour flight.
The US-bound flight went well.
Benedicto, who rode economy, was able to check on and assist her mother, with the permission of the business class attendants.
But the mother and daughter were not allowed the same accommodations on the way back.
“There were two choices,” said Rizza Garcia, granddaughter. “Let grandma stay in business class with no assistance to help her go to and from the bathroom, no assistance for feeding…so her basic need. Being a 94-year-old lady, you don’t want to pee on yourself. So my grandma chose to be in pain for 16 hours.”
The family filed a complaint with United Airlines.
After a two-week investigation, the Complaint Resolutions Officer told them that the crew’s recollection was different from the family’s.
United’s officials press statement explained that during the time of the incident, they agreed with the family that the best way to accommodate Orquiza was for the elderly woman to sit with a family member.
The Chicago-based airline company says it has been in contact with the family to apologize, will reimburse the family for the seat downgrade, and give a free travel certificate.
The family tried to argue that United’s website says attendants will offer to assist disabled customers with meals, and walking to and from the restroom — tasks that Orquiza was hoping her daughter could do.
United explained to Balitang America that the crew says they were asked to do responsibilities that they could not perform.
They added that the airline could not allow the daughter to go back and forth between the two cabins, for safety reasons.
Unhappy with the response, the family turned to Facebook.
“We want to do right be people with disability,” shared Rizza. “People who are old. People who are frail, who want to fly with comfort — we want to make sure they are treated well.”
While the accounts continue to differ, United Airlines says they will continue to investigate.
The Orquiza’s have yet to formally take any legal action, but they have been reaching out to other passengers on the same flight to give their accounts of the incident.
They’re also in touch with disability rights advocates.
‘I don’t want to get her fired; I just wanna make sure actions are taken,” said grandaughter, Marianne Santos Aguilar. “They need to clarify and clean up the procedures dealing with disabled and elderly. I wouldn’t want any other elderly or disabled to go through what my grandma had to go through.
Despite the now viral ordeal, Orquiza is in good health, back home in Australia.