Alaska Airlines sued for wrongful death after elderly woman falls down escalator

A Spokane Valley family is suing Alaska Airlines and its contractor after their disabled great-grandmother tumbled down a Portland airport escalator. Surveillance cameras were rolling as she fell. She survived the fall but was hospitalized with serious injuries and died three months later.

The family says this should have never happened. The lawsuit claims that Bernice Kekona's family had requested gate-to-gate escort services during her trip from Maui to Spokane. In the 22-page lawsuit, Bernice and her family confirmed for a third time that Alaska Airlines would be providing the escort service but they say that never happened when Bernice got off the plane in Portland.

"We love her and we miss her and I don't understand how it got to this point," said Darlene Bloyed, Bernice's daughter.

Bloyed's family in Spokane Valley had requested gate-to-gate escort services from Alaska Airlines but when Bernice landed at the Portland International Airport on June 7, 2017, the lawsuit says she was abandoned. "Someone dropped the ball here, and this just shouldn't have happened," said Troy Nelson, a lawyer representing the family.

According to the lawsuit, Alaska Airlines says it called Huntleigh USA, the company that it contracts to provide gate-to-gate services. However, according to the lawsuit, Huntleigh says they were never notified that Bernice required gate-to-gate assistance.

Two Huntleigh employees met Bernice on the airplane and eventually put her into an electric wheelchair. "They ask her how she is. She said she's fine and for some reason they interpreted that as being dismissed and they left her there," said Nelson.

The lawsuit says Bernice was forced to find her own gate back to Washington without a required escort. She's seen in surveillance video wandering around. She becomes confused and starts to follow the crowd through the Portland International Airport, looking for her flight back to Spokane. In part of the video, Bernice can be seen at the top of an escalator. Her family says she thought she was going on an elevator when suddenly, she tumbles down about 21 escalator steps, slamming her face into the escalator stairs, pinned by her wheelchair.

Bystanders rushed in to help before she was taken to the hospital where she never left. After three months of pain and a surgery, Bernice died. "We did everything with her. We were planning out our summer. We just miss her because she's a part of our everyday life," said Darlene.

Darlene says she doesn't want this to happen to anybody else.

Lawyers for the family say they have a trial date set for December of 2018. They also say as a result of all of this, the family has a hospital bill of over $300,000.

Alaska Airlines did respond to the lawsuit. Below is a statement from Alaska Airlines Spokesperson Bobbie Egan:

“We’re heartbroken by this tragic and disturbing incident. 

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. It also appears that when her family members booked the reservation, they did not check any of the boxes for a passenger with “Blind/low vision,” “Deaf/hard of hearing,” or “Other special needs (i.e., developmental or intellectual disability, senior/elderly).” So, there was no indication in the reservation that Ms. Kekona had cognitive, visual, or auditory impairments.

After landing in Portland, Ms. Kekona was assisted into her own motorized scooter by an airport consortium wheelchair service provider who then escorted her from the aircraft into the concourse. Once in the concourse, she went off on her own. We learned from bystanders that Ms. Kekona sustained a fall while attempting to operate her own electronic chair down a moving escalator next to the A concourse elevator. We immediately called the Port of Portland Fire and Rescue, along with Port of Portland Police, who responded to the scene quickly to provide her medical treatment."