Bernice Kekona, age 75, was flying from Maui to Spokane, Washington back in June when the incident occurred. She had worked as a bus driver back in Hawaii. A video showing Ms. Kekona at Portland International Airport can be seen online. It shows two men rushing to the aid of the great grandmother as she tumbled down the escalator. Prior to her fall, she was assisted into a motorized scooter after disembarking from the first flight in her journey.
She required a leg amputation below the right knee as a result of the accident. Tragically, she died the next day. Family members say that she suffered multiple injuries and was in constant pain.
Now Alaska Airlines and a contractor have been named as defendants in a complaint filed by Ms. Kekona’s surviving family. The contractor, Huntleigh, is the company that the airline hires to perform transportation services for it. When Ms. Kekona had bought the ticket, the family had told the airline that she required assistance when traveling between gates. After her first flight a video camera captured her moving throughout the airport without an escort. Although the lawsuit does not ask for specific damages, her medical bills alone were close to $300,000.
However, Alaska Airlines is disputing some of the underlying facts asserted in the complaint. In a statement to Business Insider: "We don't have all the facts, but after conducting a preliminary investigation, it appears that Ms. Kekona declined ongoing assistance in the terminal and decided to proceed on her own to her connecting flight." If this were the case, and she left while waiting for transportation assistance to arrive, then the notion that the Alaska or Huntleigh breached their duty is less clear. Ms. Kekona was allegedly helped off of the airplane and helped into a wheelchair.
This lawsuit raises questions of the meaning of “gate to gate” service and what happens if someone leaves a waiting area on their own initiative.