Mother calls Hawaiian Airlines fee for escorting autistic son illegal

Mother outraged over Hawaiian Airline fee she claims is discriminatory against her autistic son
Published: Oct. 18, 2016 at 2:19 AM HST|Updated: Oct. 18, 2016 at 9:15 AM HST
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Debbie Kobayakawa and her son, Ian Nieblas (Image: Hawaii News Now)
Debbie Kobayakawa and her son, Ian Nieblas (Image: Hawaii News Now)

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - An Oahu mother is questioning Hawaiian Airlines after her autistic son was charged a fee for an escort through the airport.

Debbie Kobayakawa says that's against the law.

Her 26-year-old son, Ian Nieblas, is autistic, legally blind and hard of hearing.

Kobayakawa says despite his disabilities, he's very independent and has flown by himself at least four times in the last two years.

She says he's had no issues with other airlines like Alaska and United assisting him through the airport, and that Hawaiian Airlines is the only company that charges a fee for the accommodation.

"She told me it would be $100 and I told her no, not going to happen," said Kobayakawa.

Nieblas took a trip in early October from Honolulu to Sacramento with Hawaiian Air.

Kobayakawa says she asked for a security pass to escort her son to his gate herself, instead of paying the $100 to have staff members do so.

"He knows how to fly and get on the plane, but he can't read well enough to navigate the airport and he has challenges with directions," Kobayakawa said. "I believe that my son should have the same rights as anyone else"

Louis Erteshik, of Hawaii Disability Rights Center, advocates for the legal rights of individuals with disabilities.

"I've never heard of anything like that," he said. "That's very questionable as to whether that's legal."

According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, law states all carriers are to provide assistance to those with disabilities, including enplaning and deplaning, however nothing is mentioned about a fee.

Kobayakawa is asking Hawaiian Airlines to get rid of the service charge and re-train its employees on how to better handle passengers with disabilities.

"What I want to see Hawaiian do is be in compliance with the federal law," said Kobayakawa.

Hawaiian Airlines provided us with this statement:

Our policy states that we will escort passengers with disabilities from the curb to the gate and vice-versa free of charge. If a passenger requires assistance beyond that, we do require a fee to cover the cost associated with dedicating a staff member to provide assistance for an extended period.  We are looking into this situation and if it is determined that we charged this passenger in error, we will provide a refund.

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