A San Francisco man with a prosthetic leg claims he was discriminated against after an Asiana Airlines representative asked him to vacate his exit row seat.
Tim Seward, a self-described professional skateboarder and action sports enthusiast who leads a "highly active" lifestyle, was traveling from China to South Korea Sunday and bought a seat in the exit row near the front of the plane. But he was asked to move to a new seat because, as the representative said he "cannot prove [Seward's] leg is functional."
"It's not safe," a flight representative told Seward. "You're not a normal person. It's for the safety of the passengers."
Before the incident, a female flight attendant checked to see if Seward, who said he paid extra money for the seat, was willing to help the crew in the event of an emergency. Seward said yes. But moments later, an airline representative arrived and demanded Seward move.
He pulled out his phone and began filming the incident. A back-and-forth conversation about the airline's policies and Seward's abilities ensued before the San Francisco man was escorted to a new seat.
"So the company told you to move a disabled person because in this seat, according to your policy, you do not allow a disabled person to sit in this seat, because I wear a prosthetic leg," Seward can be heard telling the representative.
The representative tells Seward to run and jump to prove his physical capabilities.
"Oh my god," Seward said in response. "But if you're asking me to move, that proves I can move, right? I don't need a wheelchair to move to another seat, right? Your reasoning doesn't make much sense."
In a statement Tuesday, Asiana disputed reports that Seward was assigned an exit row seat after paying an additional cost. “It is also not correct that the staff unfairly treated the passenger to get off the aircraft. Asiana Airlines does not offer exit row seats for sale to customers in order to avoid any restrictions on selecting and assigning passengers who can perform the functions needed in the emergencies.”
The airlines added: “As an air carrier responsible for protecting the safety of its passengers, it was an inevitable decision to request reseating of the passenger after careful review on whether the passenger would be capable of performing the duties required in the event of an emergency. Prosthetic limb is not specified as criteria in the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) regulation to restrict assigning passengers in the exit row, however, the regulation states that the airlines reserve the right to judge whether the passenger would be able to perform the required safety procedures in the case of an emergency.
“Although passenger was moved to another seat due to safety regulations, please kindly understand that there was no intention to cause any discomfort to the passenger.”
Once he found his new spot, Seward said he was questioned by other passengers as to why he eventually folded to the airline's request. Seward said he didn't want to end to up in jail.
Since losing his leg to cancer at the age of 11, Seward claims he hasn't had any trouble while sitting in a plane's exit row. The "pretty embarassing" episode with Asiana was a surprise.
"For anyone to judge me based on my prosthetic alone is absolutely insane," he said.
Seward admitted that a deeper issue lies with the treatment of disabled people.
"I'm not really that upset with the airline," he said. "I feel more disgusted in people that are not aware of this kind of discrimination and not understanding that this is pure discrimination against someone that is disabled."
The 10-to-15 minute incident caused the flight to be delayed roughly one hour, according to Seward. He said he wasn't refunded for changing his seat.