A woman with cancer headed from Hawaii to San Jose says she was bumped from an Alaska Airlines flight because she was wearing a surgical mask and admitted to a flight attendant she felt a bit "weak."
Elizabeth Sedway is now using her extra long flight delay to call for common sense from the airline regarding cancer patients and a written apology.
Apparently it worked.
Alaska Airlines spokeswoman Bobbie Egan on Tuesday told NBC Bay Area that the "communication breakdown was on our part," adding that the company will refund the airfare for family and reimburse any expenses.
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Sedway, who lives in Granite Bay in Northern California and suffers from multiple myeloma, said in a phone interview Tuesday from Hawaii that her entire family was escorted off the flight Monday after she put on a surgical mask in the boarding area of the Lihue Airport.
The flight attendant asked Sedway if she was OK, and the 51-year-old mother, travel writer and attorney admitted she might need some extra time to board because sometimes "I feel weak." The flight attendant called a doctor, she said, who issued the opinion that Sedway shouldn't fly.
Sedway shot video from the plane, which she posted on her Facebook page, where she is heard saying in a frustrated voice: "I'm being removed like I'm a criminal or contagious because I have cancer. No note to fly. My family is being forcibly removed from the airplane because I have cancer."
Then she asks: "Does anybody wonder how I got to Hawaii?"
There are precautions that travelers with cancer should take, according to Cancer.net. Some people with cancer may not be able to fly because oxygen levels and air pressure changes at high altitudes can be dangerous. Changes in air pressure during a flight can also trigger swelling called lymphedema in the arms, legs, or other parts of the body for people who have had lymph nodes removed. Also, Cancer.net notes that people with cancer are at a higher risk to develop a blood clot after sitting through a long flight.
USA Today also compiled a list of reasons why airlines could refuse service, including if passengers have contagious diseases or pre-existing conditions such as cancer, heart disease, lung conditions, diabetes and other issues, and the decision rests with the captain.
Sedway acknowledges that she didn't have a doctor's note clearing her for safe travel. And she added that airlines officials told her that because she felt "weak," they were worried about her flying over an open ocean. "They didn't want me to collapse," she said.
Still, Sedway said she has flown for the last five years. She said she even emailed her oncologist during the encounter with the flight attendant, and her doctor gave her clearance to board and fly.
"What more can I give you?" Sedway asked rhetorically, recalling her question to the flight attendant.
But she was not allowed to reboard, so she and her family, including her two sons, spent the night in Maui. She is expected to fly out from Hawaiian Airlines later on Tuesday, expecting to arrive in San Jose by 7 p.m. She said the delay will cause her to miss her chemo appointment this week - something that's never happened before.
Sedway has gone through a range of emotions, from tears, to shock to anger. She just wishes the airline would have bit more accommodating, even if the company needs to cover its own liabilities.
"They need to polish their policies, apply some common sense," she said. "A simple mask, a word, shouldn't be enough to pull a whole family off an airplane."