Southwest Nearly Lets Liver Transplant Patient Die Because He Wouldn’t Buy 2nd Ticket

UPDATE: Southwest apologizes and gives a refund.

Richard Brown nearly died on Sunday, January 21st, thanks to reckless indifference by a Southwest Airlines ticket agent.

A dying hep-C patient, Richard, secured an appointment at the Mayo Clinic. After getting turned down, he was referred to the University of San Francisco.

When he went to board in Scottsdale for California, the ticket agent refused to let Richard fly unless he bought another ticket, due to his weight.

The weight gain is due to water retention because of his failing liver. Richard lives on California Disability Pay and had no funds to pay for the extra ticket. The flight was not sold out.

The ticket agent didn’t care when shown Richard’s medical papers, saying, “each airport has their own rules and these are ours, no extra seat, no boarding.”

Family scrounged up what little money they had to help him pay for meals. Call after call to customer service ended in countless transfers and wrong numbers.

Finally, a Southwest Airlines agent in Dallas paid for Richard’s ticket herself.

“All the while, Richard sat freezing wrapped in several blankets at the gate. The Southwest agent content to let him die in the boarding area,” writes his daughter Brandi.

The rest of her story, inside…

UPDATE: We asked some followup questions of the daughter

Brandi writes:

    “Richard Brown, a disabled Hep-C victim scraping by on the pennies we call “California Disability Pay,” secured a last minute appointment and dying hope for a liver transplant at Mayo Clinic in Scottsdale, Arizona only to be refused boarding by Southwest Airlines because of his weight. Richard is suffering from the final stages of Hep-C, which includes grossly excessive water retention due to a failing liver. With an impending death sentence, Richard’s only hope is a liver transplant.

    Richard Brown and his caretaker, Paul, boarded a Southwest flight in Sacramento to Phoenix on Sunday, January 21, 2007, with the hopes of receiving a life-saving liver transplant from Mayo Clinic.

    Booking his flight and accommodations were no ordinary travel arrangement. The liver transplant appointment was granted at the last minute, and Richard, living on State Disability, could not afford the last minute flight fares and Scottsdale hotel accommodations. Richard’s mother, Lessie Diffey who is 70 years old and recovering from a recent heart operation, likewise could not afford to save her son’s life. Richard’s only hope was his daughter Ms. Brown who is currently residing in Japan. Ms. Brown, fighting international time zones and time constraints, arranged for accommodations and airplane fare.

    Ms. Brown telephoned Southwest from Japan, informing them of her father’s condition. Ms. Brown was reassured that a note had been entered into the computer, notifying the gate agent of Richard’s condition. The bookings were made (note without any discount, which is normally afforded to medical emergency passengers), and Richard and his caretaker boarded the flight in Sacramento without occurrence.

    Upon arrival in Scottsdale, Mayo Clinic denied Richard the liver, and referred him to the University of San Francisco. Richard changed his return flight to the next available flight from Phoenix to Sacramento in order to get in immediate contact with the University of San Francisco. Again, a race against his death’s clock.

    Upon arrival at Southwest’s gate, the boarding agent refused to allow Richard to fly unless he purchased another ticket, citing Richard’s weight as the reason. The flight was not sold out, so an empty seat next to Richard was available and no passengers would be inconvenienced by Richard’s size. But seeing an opportunity to make an extra fare, Southwest’s agent, having been informed of Richard’s flailing medical condition and shown supporting medical documentation, refused to allow Richard to board, stating “each airport has their own rules and these are ours, no extra seat, no boarding.” Richard, not having access to readily available funds, could not afford to purchase another seat. Indeed, various family members contributed the only spare change they had to give Richard a mere $300 for meals and incidentals. Again, the plea for help fell on deaf Southwest ears.

    Richard contacted his mother via a collect call, who in turn immediately called Southwest’s customer service, which turned out to be a myriad of transfers and wrong numbers. Customer service agent after customer service agent, each Southwest agent transferred Mrs. Diffey to a wrong number and refused to help, even once to the baggage department in Texas.

    Until finally, an agent in Dallas named Becky offered to pay for the ticket herself. All the while, Richard sat freezing wrapped in several blankets at the gate. The Southwest agent content to let him die in the boarding area.

    Once an airline accepts the responsibility of allowing a passenger to travel, it is their responsibility to get the passenger home. Southwest appears not to care whether the passenger be alive or dead during his transit home.”

Appalling. — BEN POPKEN


Brandi writes:

    “Hi Ben,

    Thank you for your reply, and I appreciate your consideration.

    My father is at home literally on his death bed. He has nearly lost all bowel control, is in excruciating pain due to the water pressure on his nerves, most of the time is immobile because it is too painful to stand, and his cognitive abilities come and go. Due to his liver condition, painkillers are not an option….

    …Per my last conversation with my father, his water weight was around 125 pounds, with a total weight of around 300 pounds. I am confirming this with him….

    …He has an appointment with the University of San Francisco during the first week of February, so hopefully they will take him as a transplant recipient. Fingers are crossed, as we are really down to our last straw.


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