The Air Carrier Access Act requires airlines to provide prompt wheelchair assistance to passengers with mobility impairments. But disabled and elderly passengers frequently find it difficult to obtain this service. According to ABC News and USA Today, “In the three years that the government has issued statistics, more than 34,000 disabled fliers have complained about their treatment, and 54% of the incidents have involved wheelchair assistance.”
This same research revealed that “In 2006, the most recent year available, the USA’s six large network airlines received 1.07 complaints per 100,000 passengers about inadequate wheelchair assistance.”
Airlines typically hire contractors to provide assistance to disabled and elderly passengers. However, communication between the airlines and contractors result in delays and miscues, with passengers frequently failing to receive the assistance they need. USA Today spoke with Roger Lotz, a Travelers Aid volunteer at Reagan Washington National. Mr. Lotz told reporters that “he has seen the wheelchair-request system fail at times, especially during peak holiday periods. Airline gate agents are overloaded, and, as a result, the airlines and contractors don’t coordinate wheelchair usage.”
Inadequate training remains a critical issue as well. While the employees hired to help disabled and elderly passengers are some of the most valuable employees at an airport, their low pay creates a high turnover rate. Lack of experience coupled with inadequate training leads to accidents.
USA Today contacted with Mary Verdi-Fletcher, founder of the Cleveland-based Dancing Wheels dance troupe, who said that “people who help transfer her from wheelchair to cabin seat usually don’t know how to do it properly.” “Most of the time they cannot figure out the seat belts or the braking system on the (wheelchair), so we are tossed and jarred about and cannot really catch ourselves if they stumble,” Fletcher says.
The main obstacle to better service is money, says Eric Lipp of Open Doors Organization, a Chicago-based non-profit that tracks the disability consumer market for the travel industry. “Ninety percent of the wheelchair problems exist because there’s no money in it,” Lipp says. “I’m not 100% convinced that airline executives are really willing to pay for this service.”
If you have been denied the care and assistance you need at the airport, and it caused you harm, then contact Tom Stilwell at the Stilwell Law Firm. Most lawyers may not know or understand your rights, but we do. We have written and spoken extensively on these issues. You can download the Air Carrier Access Act and our guidance on how to protect your rights as an airline passenger.