Saturday, August 20, 2005

Airline blamed for
late doctor

The airline says the VA physician
was bumped after failing to
check in on time

The acting director of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs has complained that Aloha Airlines bumped a doctor from a flight, inconveniencing patients, but the airline says it is not to blame.

Dr. Brian O'Neill, acting VA director, said he wants David Banmiller, Aloha chief operating officer, to issue a letter of apology because Dr. Fernando Ona, VA staff physician and gastroenterology specialist, had to cancel eight colonoscopies and other procedures on Maui when the interisland airline was unable to get him a seat on the next flight out.

Aloha spokesman Stu Glauberman said the doctor lost his seat on an early-morning flight to Maui because he overslept and failed to check in 30 minutes before his scheduled departure.

If the doctor "had been on time, he would have made his flight," Glauberman said.

"We are truly sorry to the patients on Maui did not get their medical treatment," Glauberman added. "However, we are not at fault here. I believe that if there is any apology to be made, it should come from the doctor who missed his flight."

O'Neill said he also wants Aloha to give VA doctors a special boarding pass to prevent future problems.

While rejecting that request, Glauberman said Aloha has "recognized that certain passengers have special needs, and we are responsive to passengers' special needs."

O'Neill said Ona, who travels regularly to the neighbor islands to provide VA care, had a confirmed reservation on Aloha's 5:55 a.m. flight on Aug. 6.

However, Ona arrived at Aloha's terminal at 5:25 a.m. and was unable to use the airline's check-in kiosk. O'Neill said Ona was given a "late check-in" at the ticket counter at 5:35 a.m.

But Ona was unable to board because he was told the flight was overbooked. Ona was given a secondary standby for a flight that left at 7:25 a.m. but was not given a seat because the plane was full.

Glauberman said: "Ona was unable to use the kiosk because he checked in less than the required 30 minutes before departure. The system noted that Dr. Ona attempted to use the kiosk at 5:34 a.m. for a 5:55 a.m. departure.

"Because the state canoe regatta was being held on Maui that day, all of Aloha's flights to Maui were full. Unfortunately, by the time Dr. Ona checked in, there were no seats available for him.

"The airline reservation system is programmed to address security requirements as well as to protect passengers' confirmed reservation, provided they meet the check-in requirements. When Dr. Ona missed his original flight, the system could not guarantee him a seat on the next flight since it was fully booked and all the passengers with confirmed reservations had checked in on time."

Glauberman said that is why Aloha recommends that interisland passengers plan to arrive at the airport 90 minutes prior to departure, and requires passengers to check in 30 minutes before departure.

Glauberman said the airline routinely overbooks its flights and recommends that passengers check in at least 30 minutes before boarding time, especially on early-morning flights and on heavy traffic days like Fridays.

O'Neill said Aloha's "capricious actions" meant that six VA patients will be forced to repeat "an elaborate preparation at a future date" when their procedures are rescheduled.

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