ASHEVILLE, N.C. (ACT) – Jane Graham-Bailey says all she wanted to do was board her flight at Asheville Regional Airport and return home to Florida in time for an Easter dinner with family.
But after what she calls a "humiliating" confrontation with an airline worker over her medical oxygen tank, Graham-Bailey said she was denied passage on the Allegiant flight Sunday because she didn't have the proper paperwork for the tank.
The 78-year-old resident of Jensen Beach, Fla., who was carrying the tank in case of an asthma attack, is still stuck in Western North Carolina trying to get home.
"I have never been treated that way, ever," Graham-Bailey said of the airline worker, an Allegiant contract employee who was checking passengers as they boarded the plane. "It was a man who misused his power."
She said she's speaking out in hopes to preventing other people from having a similar travel nightmare.
"I've been a good mother and grandmother," she said. "I didn't deserve this. I deserved to sit down with my family and enjoy Easter dinner."
Allegiant spokeswoman Jessica Wheeler said Graham-Bailey was denied passage because she did not have a required physician consent form for the oxygen tank, a document from her doctor verifying her medical needs. The airline's rules are based on FAA regulations, she said.
"Oxygen tanks are highly flammable," Wheeler said. "We need to ensure, for everyone's safety, that an oxygen tank has been recently inspected and that it is medically safe for the passenger to fly. It sounds like there was some sort of misunderstanding. She didn't submit the physician consent form, and she didn't have it with her."
Graham-Bailey traveled in an Allegiant jet from Orlando to Asheville on Feb. 17 for an extended visit with her daughter-in-law in Little Switzerland — without a physician consent form, she said.
Graham-Bailey, who developed asthma two years ago, flies infrequently and said she was unaware she needed such a document to carry an oxygen tank. She said she was not asked for the document on the flight from Orlando.
Graham-Bailey said the airline worker treated her rudely, telling her she could not board the flight with the tank and telling her to move out of the line.
Graham-Bailey said she offered to leave the tank behind, since she also carried a small emergency inhaler. The worker also denied her that option after telephoning an on-call medical service to consult about the medical safety of allowing her to travel without the tank. The medical service deemed such a trip risky for her health.
Graham-Bailey said she wasn't ill or showing any signs of an asthma attack at the airport. She said she pleaded with the worker, telling him she hadn't had an attack in a year and regularly took medication to prevent an attack.
Graham-Bailey, who lives with her son and his family, is hoping to get a flight back to Florida on Sunday from Johnson City, Tenn., vowing to never return to the Asheville airport. She said she is still awaiting a physician consent form from her doctor. She also has to wait until Sunday because it's the only day her son can drive to the Orlando airport to pick her up when she arrives.
Wheeler said Graham-Bailey was refunded the ticket price for the missed flight. She said safety was the primary concern for the airline.
"Once you're up in an aircraft, you really have nowhere to go," Wheeler said. "It's our responsibility to ensure that all our passengers can fly safely. Ultimately, every decision we make is about the safety of our passengers and crew."
She said officials with the Las Vegas-based air carrier would investigate the matter further, including the worker's treatment of Graham-Bailey.
"We certainly want all of our passengers to be treated with respect," Wheeler said.
Airport spokeswoman Tina Kinsey said the matter is an issue between the carrier and customer.
"We trust that they will follow up," Kinsey said of Allegiant. "They're interested in positive customer service, just like we are."
Graham-Bailey said she is still angry over missing Easter dinner with her family.
"I'm 78," she said. "I don't have that many Easters left. I feel like he took something away from me and my family."