Disabled man forced to pre-board Reagan Southwest flight alone, separated from wife battling cancer

A couple says their holiday trip to Virginia was ruined by a traumatic incident on their flight home.

A disabled husband was forced to pre-board alone, while his sick wife had to stay behind at the gate.

Terry and Kathryn Podraza were hesitant to make the trip from Omaha to Fredericksburg at all.

Terry is disabled, and Kathy is fighting cancer with aggressive chemotherapy starting on Monday. So, their family booked a direct flight on Southwest hoping to make their trip as easy as possible.

Unfortunately, the Podrazas say it was anything but.

Kathy and Terry Podraza hadn't seen their 6-month-old grandbaby since she was born. So, the idea of spending Christmas with their daughter Kate and her sister in Virginia was worth the long haul, despite serious challenges with their health.

"I'm handicapped and my wife has stage-four colon and liver cancer," said Terry Podraza.

After the holiday rush wrapped up, the Podrazas were headed home on a direct flight on Southwest.

Terry Podraza was permitted to board early, due to his disability. Kathy expected to join him, but they say the ticket agent wouldn't allow it.

"He told us that me having pre-boarding and being handicapped, that it was against the law for her to board at the same time as me," said Terry Podraza.

Instead, Terry used his cane to board alone, while Kathy waited at the gate.

And as the final passengers stepped on the plane, Kathy was still waiting.

Not only had the agent not allowed her to assist Terry, Kathy says he accidentally scanned and kept her ticket. So when she finally was able to board, she had no way to get on the plane.

"All he had to do is ask me my name and he would have seen that he had already scanned my boarding pass," said Kathy Podraza.

While battling a second bout of cancer and gearing up for intense chemotherapy, Kathy says the agent's actions brought her to tears.

But when she finally was allowed on, Kathy says she was thankful at least for a very kind flight attendant who offered a little something to calm her nerves -- a mimosa.

The "Frequently Asked Questions" page on Southwest Airlines website addressed pre-boarding protocol and states:

"We will allow one travel companion to act as an "attendant" and pre-board with a customer with a disability."

FOX 5 reached out to Southwest via phone and email for comment.

The airline responded:

"Because it's important to southwest that this concern is given our full attention, this situation has been given to a specialist for further review. We assure you that any missed opportunities will be thoroughly addressed."

Terry Podraza reached out as well and received an automatic message saying it would take up to 30 days before he receives an answer.