The Spokane family of a 75-year-old woman who uses a wheelchair is suing Alaska Airlines and its contractor Huntleigh USA. The family claims that airline workers’ failure to care for the woman resulted in her fall down an escalator at Portland International Airport. She died three months later from her injuries. It’s alleged in the suit that Bernice Kekona’s family had requested a gate-to-gate escort service during her trip from Maui to Spokane in June 2017. The suit alleges further that Kekona’s family called Alaska Airlines three times to make sure she would not be left alone during her trip. Federal law requires airlines to assist disabled passengers on and off their flights and between gates to make connections.
Ms. Kekona, who had impaired vision and hearing, also had a prosthetic left leg and used a power wheelchair for mobility. The lawsuit contends the woman was helped off her Alaska flight from Maui to Portland, but that workers from Huntleigh USA left her alone in the terminal to find her next gate. Ms. Kekona is seen on Portland airport surveillance video wandering through the airport and moving her wheelchair to the top of an escalator. The lawsuit alleges that the woman, who suffered extensive injuries in the fall, told first responders she was confused and thought she was boarding an “elevator” before she fell down 22 escalator steps face-first with her heavy electric wheelchair on top of her.
An Alaska Airlines spokesperson, Bobbie Egan, released a statement denying fault. She said that “Ms. Kekona declined ongoing assistance in the terminal and decided to proceed on her own to her connecting flight.” The airlines contend that the family failed to fill out necessary application documents correctly.
The lawsuit claims, however, that the airline had a responsibility to escort Kekona to her connecting flight in Portland, no matter what she may have told a worker, or what boxes on forms they may not have checked. It appears there were several places in the reservation form asking if there were any special needs for the passenger. The case is scheduled for trial in December of this year.