Airports are large places. What do you do if you need assistance getting to your flight? What do you do if you need assistance transferring from one flight at one gate, to a connecting flight at a different gate? What if you need a wheelchair due to your age, your medical conditions, or a disability? The Air Carrier Access Act imposes duties on the airlines to provide wheelchair assistance and makes them responsible for airport wheelchair injuries.
For travelers with mobility issues, it can be a daunting task to get from the airport curb to the boarding gate. It can also be daunting to move from one flight to another, especially when the flights leave from different gates or – worse – from different terminals.
The Air Carrier Access Act (“ACAA”) requires all United States airlines to provide free wheelchair access to any traveler who asks for it, without requiring a description or documentation of that need. Airline wheelchair assistance may include the provision of a wheelchair, provision of an electronic cart for longer distances, and provision of an attendant to help push the passenger through the airport.
Travelers should note that the Air Carrier Access Act was enacted by the United States and its protections do not apply to all flights in the world. Specifically, the ACAA applies only to the following flights:
Foreign airlines must offer the same service for passengers departing from or flying to the United States. For example, the ACAA would NOT apply to a British Airways flight between London and Barcelona, but would apply to a British Airways flight between London and Houston or vice versa.
Note that the ACAA makes the carrier who delivers you to a connecting airport responsible for assistance in making flight connections and transportation between gates.
If you have any problem before or during your flight, ask to speak with your airline’s Complaint Resolution Officer (CRO). All airlines in the United States are required to have a CRO on duty in each airport either in person or via telephone. It is their job to resolve disability related issues, especially with regards to airline wheelchair assistance.
So how does a airline passenger arrange for wheelchair or cart access?
When you book your ticket, ask the airline to have a wheelchair or cart available on your travel date. This request will be added to your travel record and will allow the wheelchair to be available when you arrive at the airport. If your airport has skycaps at the curb, you can request a wheelchair from them to get you through security and to the gate, but it is far better to make a wheelchair reservation in advance when you book your ticket. The documentation of your request for airline wheelchair assistance will help you if you encounter problems getting service during your travel.
After you check in at the gate, be sure to ask the desk agent make arrangements to have a cart or wheelchair available at your transfer point and/or final destination. The airline is supposed to provide your wheelchair or cart needs to all connecting flights and returning flights, but asking the gate agent to ensure it is transmitted may save you time and headaches along the way.
In this day and time, most airlines contract with companies to help travelers by offering wheelchairs to get around in an airport. This may include helping mobility challenged travelers through a security checkpoint. if the airline contracts with a service to provide wheelchair and mobility assistance, the airline remains responsible for the passenger’s assistance.
Larger airports usually have motorized carts available for those who can’t walk long distances or need help to get to a gate quickly to make a flight.
Tell your wheelchair attendant what you can and cannot do. If you need to make a restroom stop, the attendant will take you. However, attendants are not required to assist you with bathroom or medical needs.