(WJLA) - A decorated veteran of the war in Afghanistan is embarrassed and angry this week after a flight attendant on an Alaska Airlines told him he was not allowed to sit in an exit row seat simply because he has a prosthetic leg - even though FAA regulations state otherwise. The incident happened on Memorial Day.
Arlington resident Adam Popp said the flight attendant even went so far as to threaten to call security and have him removed from the plane if he didn't give up his seat.
Today, Alaska Airlines is issuing an apology to the veteran for the incident.
Popp is no stranger to extreme sports - in fact, despite the prosthetic leg he was given after being wounded in Afghanistan in 2007, he was on that Alaska Airlines flight Monday returning from a 94-mile adventure ride he had just completed with six other wounded veterans.
The war veteran flew Alaska Airlines from Bellingham, Washington to Seattle - ironically, sitting in the exit row. In Seattle he changed planes, boarding Alaska Airlines Flight 4 to Reagan National Airport.
As the picture he tweeted shows, Popp was wearing shorts that day - his prosthetic leg plainly visible.
Because of that, a flight attendant forced him to move from the exit row.
"He said, 'No, you aren't going to sit there,'" Popp recalls. "I asked what the problem was, he said, 'You are wearing a prosthetic, you can't sit in the exit row.'"
Popp said the flight attendant checked Alaska Airlines' flight attendant manual, and then insisted Popp surrender his seat.
However, FAA regulations dated January of this year say otherwise, indicating a passenger's assessment for ability to perform exit-row duties must be made "in a nondiscriminatory manner”:
"The presence of the prosthesis would not be the determinant for being able to meet the criteria, but rather the physical ability to perform the exit seat duties."
The regulation is in addition to previous rules establishing the criteria for who can sit in an exit row, which require a passenger possess “sufficient mobility, strength, or dexterity in both arms and hands, and both legs” in order to be able to reach upward, sideways and downward, be able to manipulate mechanisms of the exit door, lift, move or open the exit row door, remove obstructions of similar size to the exit row door, quickly exit the aircraft, stabilize a slide, and assist others."
Popp believes he meets all the requirements laid out by the FAA and Alaska Airlines.
In a statement Friday, Alaska Airlines is apologized for the incident, and thanked Popp for his sacrifice and service. A spokesperson blames the incident on confusion over the regulations:
"Alaska has received conflicting guidance from the FAA on emergency exit row seating regulations. We're working with the FAA to clarify which policy we must follow."
When asked why Popp was allowed to sit in an exit-row seat for the first segment of his trip, spokesperson Paul McElroy said, “Mr. Popp was permitted to sit in an exit row on his flight from Bellingham to Seattle because our sister carrier, Horizon Air, receives instructions from a different FAA office, which has a conflicting interpretation of the exit-row regulation.” explained McElroy, who added, “this incident brought the issue for forefront.”
He added that the incident has brought the issue to the forefront for the airline, and Alaska is actively working to resolve it.
Popp says he is discouraged by the Memorial Day incident, and deserves to be treated like everyone else.
“That flight attendant was stuck on that one piece of gear. That’s the only thing he saw," Popp said. "He didn’t see me as a person. He didn’t see me as [having] the ability to do the things they require. He saw that one thing and said, ’Nope you aren’t sitting here.’ It was his way or I was off the plane.”
Alaska Airlines' statement also said, "Our flight attendant who reseated Mr. Popp has a son in the military and his father also served. He has enormous respect for those who serve and directed Mr. Popp to a new seat only after verifying in his flight attendant manual that he was following proper policy."
Members of the Disabled American Veterans association also expressed disappointment over Popp's treatment in an official statement:
"The FAA's prescribed safety regulations are critical to flight and passenger safety, but we hope airline employees know and adhere to the guidelines that state passengers with a prosthesis – to include injured veterans – must be assessed in a nondiscriminatory manner when determining seat selection. The FAA directives clearly state a passenger's full functionality and mobility is the key determining factor in these instances, not the presence of the prosthetic device itself."
Alaska Airlines said it is offering Popp a $200 flight coupon and is sending him a letter explaining why he was reseated.