Cancer Patient Kicked Off Her Flight for Not Having a Doctor's Note

You know what's a real inconvenience to airlines? Cancer.

On Monday, Elizabeth Sedway and her family boarded an Alaska Airlines flight from Hawaii to San Jose. Sedway, who has multiple myeloma, wore a face mask to protect herself from germs; naturally this garnered the attention of airline staffers before she even got on the jetway. In a post on Facebook, Sedway relays what went down:

"An airline employee saw me seated in the handicap section of the boarding area. She asked me if I needed anything. The first time. I said no. The second time, [I] said, well I might need a bit of extra time to board, sometimes I feel weak. Because I said the word weak, the Alaska Airlines employee called a doctor, she claimed was associated with the airlines. After we board the plane. An Alaska representative boarded the plane, and told us I could not fly without a note from a doctor stating that I was cleared to fly."


Sedway says she had an email from her oncologist that stated, "If you feel fine you should be able to fly." That phrasing wasn't enough for Alaska Airlines (why not? The mysteries of customer service in commercial aviation run deep), and so they removed Sedway and her family from the plane. Because she wasn't able to get back to California on Monday, she missed her chemotherapy treatment scheduled for Tuesday.

Of all the major American airlines, Alaska ranks at the top for overall service; they're not typically known for being relentlessly inconsiderate or rude—until now, anyhow. It's hard to find an element of fairness in this story (probably because what happened isn't fair), but understandably no airline would want to take an ill passenger on a long flight over the ocean if it wasn't clear that the passenger was fit enough to fly. Except, you know, Sedway was fit to fly. Lots of ill people are. Even if Sedway's doctor didn't use the phrasing Alaska Airlines was looking for, her oncologist clearly communicated that Sedway, and not some random gate agent or airline representative, is the best judge of her abilities.

The airline issued an apology:

"We regret the inconvenience Ms. Sedway experienced yesterday and are very sorry for how the situation was handled. Her family's tickets have been refunded and we will cover the cost of her family's overnight accommodations in Lihue. While our employee had the customer's well-being in mind, the situation could have been handled differently."

Sedway plans to donate that refund to the Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation.

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You know what's a real inconvenience? Lawsuits.

"If you feel fine, you should be able to fly" is not the same or as definitive as I certify you, as your oncologist, as fit to fly or something along those lines. See how that changes things? It takes the burden off the airline and places it on the oncologist.

Sedway is not any more of a medical professional than airline employees. Leaving the decision up to the patient, as her oncologist did, would certainly concern me if I were in that employees shoes.

I requested a fit to fly note from my mother's oncologist. Even though this isn't uncommon, he had me contact the airline to ensure his verbiage was sufficient if he decided she was fit. She wasn't, so that was that.

I can see this from both sides. I don't fault the airline and I certainly don't fault Elizabeth Sedway. It's an unfortunate incident, but I wouldn't classify the actions of the employee "relentlessly rude" as much as I would "overly cautious". Keep in mind, this situation was born out of concern for a passenger and not the whim of some cancer patient hating sky troll.