Recently, I travelled to Seattle, Washington with my wife and daughter to attend a family social event.
After missing two United Airlines’ connecting flights from Chicago, we finally arrived at Seattle’s SEATAC Airport after 11:30 p.m. in the evening. Originally, we were supposed to arrive earlier in the evening, but because of delays in Buffalo, we couldn’t reach Chicago in time to catch our scheduled flight to Seattle, or the next one.
Just picture the scene. By the time we got our luggage at Seattle Airport, it was after midnight. We were extremely tired. To make matters worse, my daughter was in agony suffering from an ear infection that was aggravated by the changes in elevation caused by takeoff and landing.
All we wanted to do was get our rental car that was reserved from Thrifty Rent-A-Car, and head to our hotel and get some sleep.
So we went to the Thrifty rental outlet. We were greeted by a man named Chris who spoke English with a French accent. He confirmed my reservation, took my identification, and swiped my credit card information.
That’s when it all started. Apparently, his supervisor who was leaving for the night, took one look at me, and told him to tell me that I required supplemental insurance coverage because I am physically disabled. She then left, leaving it up to the agent to tell me that I needed to buy their supplemental coverage.
I told him that I didn’t require any kind of supplemental insurance, since it was available free of charge when using my credit card to rent the car. He still insisted that I required it because of my physical disability.
I have always tried to look at myself only as someone who has slightly shorter arms and cannot cross his legs when sitting, and as someone who cannot climb ropes – nothing more, in spite of how others perceive me. I also get infuriated when someone throws my disability back in my face.
In this case, it was shear discrimination on the basis of my physical disability. In the U.S. it could also be considered as being unconstitutional.
That’s when my back went up.
I protested and demanded that he contact his supervisor by telephone to either ask her to return, or to allow me to speak to her over the telephone. He refused. I then asked him for the name of his supervisor. His response was “Jeanie – I don’t know her last name”. I ask you, how many people do not know the name of their supervisor?
I basically told him to take his rental car, and “put it where the sun don’t shine”!
As there was no one in their office, I stormed into it to use their telephone and contact their head office. I figured that there was a 24 hour emergency number for emergencies. But no such luck.
His co-worker called Michelle then came into the office, and started yelling at me that I was trespassing. I therefore left the office, while she continued to scream at me saying “Don’t go anywhere, I’m calling the police!”
I then demanded my money back since I hadn’t taken the rental car. They refused to refund my money, which just continued to escalate the situation.
The police then arrived. I felt sorry for them, because they were getting into the middle of the dispute. When I told them what happened, I also gave the analogy of forcing someone to buy supplemental insurance merely because they were black, or female. It was discriminatory and had no logic.
Anyway, I left the scene without my refund. But before leaving, Chris said to both my wife and I that since I was disabled, they would add her as an occasional driver to the vehicle. Normally, there would be an extra charge, but they would waive this fee in our case. My wife and I didn’t wish to have anything to do with Thrifty.
A day after I returned home I called Thrifty Rent-A-Car. Knowing that the matter of discrimination was far from being a simple customer complaint, I tracked down the number for Thrifty’s CEO. I ended up speaking to his executive secretary, and expressed my upset about what had taken place.
I told her that as a courtesy, I was not calling just to complain, but to advise them that their company breached human rights laws.
She took down my contact information, and shortly afterward, I received a telephone call from the local manager of their sister company. I told him that I was doing their company a huge favour by not contacting a lawyer. All I really wanted was a sincere apology, a refund for the car that was not rented and appropriate action to reprimand the employees who acted unscrupulously and attempted to discriminate against me on the basis of my disability.
He deeply regretted the incident, and assured me that someone from their corporate offices would be “reaching out” and calling me. It’s been about two weeks now, and all I received was one telephone message. I returned that call, but haven’t heard anything further from Thrifty.
I even called their corporate offices last week and spoke to the same person in the CEO’s office. I was told that the corporate customer service manager had repeatedly attempted to call me. Well, leaving one voice message does not constitute repeated attempts to contact me!
I finally received the following unsigned letter from Thrifty. No apology and somewhat threatening.
So I leave it to you … does Thrifty Rent-A-Car discriminate against people if they have a physical disability? Based on my experience, my answer would have to be … Yes! From my experience, they do!
I have prepared the following short video that places the incident, and the issue of forcing people with physical disabilities to buy additional automobile insurance, into a better perspective.