Spirit Accused of Stranding Disabled Passenger Alone in Wheelchair at FLL for Hours UPDATED

Photo by Bernal Saborio / Flickr
Update: After publication, the lawyer representing the Avellan family said they're withdrawing the suit because Holmes Avellan died in October, apparently from causes unrelated to the Spirit Airlines ordeal. Attorney Nolan Klein says Avellan's estate might eventually decide to refile claims against the airline.

When his family finally found him at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport (FLL), Holmer Avellan was sitting alone in his wheelchair and weeping.

Spirit Airlines was supposed to have an employee escort him to his connection. Instead, according to a federal lawsuit filed this week, Avellan — who as result of a stroke is confined to a wheelchair, cannot use his arms, and struggles to communicate — was left alone in the airport for hours.

"He burst into tears upon seeing his sister and niece," the complaint says. "One of [Spirit's] employees or agents advised that Mr. Avellan had been there in that position since the beginning of that person's shift."

While stuck in his wheelchair, Avellan soiled himself, and he was left with painful sores, the suit alleges. But when his wife Jeannette contacted the airline to voice her concerns about the June incident, she says, she was met with indifference.

A spokesman for the Miramar-based airline declined to comment on the allegations Thursday, saying the company had not yet been served with the lawsuit.

It's the second time this week that Spirit has had to answer for stranding passengers at FLL. Delayed flights Monday caused a huge brawl in the terminal when travelers had a collective meltdown, swarming the ticket counter and yelling at employees.

In Avellan's case, there was nothing he could do to get help or advocate for himself.

According to the lawsuit, he flew in to Fort Lauderdale from Managua, Nicaragua, and was headed home to New York. When his wife booked the trip, Spirit assured her that assistance would be provided at each airport, where employees would help him off the plane in Fort Lauderdale, onto his second flight, and off the plane in New York.

But when she arrived at the New York airport to pick him up, her husband was nowhere to be found. She waited until the last passenger deplaned, the suit says, and then called Spirit. That's when she discovered he was still at FLL. When she called customer service there, however, no one picked up.

She asked Avellan's sister, a Miami resident, to drive to the airport and look for him. Avellan's sister found him, and he flew to New York later that night.

The lawsuit argues Spirit violated the Air Carrier Access Act, which forbids discrimination against people with disabilities in air travel. The airline had a duty to provide the assistance requested by Avellan. Additionally, Spirit had specifically told his wife it would help him from one plane to the next.

During the time he was trapped in the airport, Avellan was without food or water and missed his medication, according to the lawsuit. The day after he made it home, he was treated for his sores.

His wife called and wrote letters to Spirit Airlines, yet "she received no positive or acceptable or caring response to her inquiries," the suit says.
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Brittany Shammas is a former staff writer at Miami New Times. She covered education in Naples before taking a job at the South Florida Sun Sentinel. She joined New Times in 2016.
Contact: Brittany Shammas

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