Are Wheelchairs Luggage?
Airlines Consider our Wheelchairs & Mobility Devices as “Luggage,” and It Shows
How many of you have traveled and had an “Incident report” due to damage to a wheelchair?
Raise your hands…..yep…almost ALL of us
“At this point, I don’t know what to say. Phenomenal trip bookended by bullshit. If I thought @alaskaair losing my luggage on the way there was bad; my wheelchair was completely destroyed upon arriving home. #itistimeforaconversation”
Unfortunately, the airlines are not governed by the ADA. They are governed by the Air Carriers Act…a set of laws and regulations they wrote which protects them from consumer action, including persons with disabilities who have essential equipment damaged by the airlines’ neglect. According to their rules, wheelchairs and other vital mobility devices are ‘luggage.’
“No matter what happens, this is just the beginning of a larger conversation about accessible travel that must be had. This makes TWO trashed chairs from TWO different airlines in the span of exactly one year. Because I’m paralyzed from the neck down, these chairs are more than just my legs, and they are also my arms and extensions of my brain; they are how I control my telephone, access my home and run my business. In short, they are my life, and that should not be put at risk every time I want to travel and #dolife.” Kenny Salvini
What can we do about this?
Print and keep in a file or device a copy of the Law
If they do not understand that you can board your chair if it fits into the closet, then remind them. Be polite and non-aggressive, and it should go more smoothly.
If it doesn’t fit, then consider taking your wheels off the frame and storing those…these are often the most vulnerable part of the chair.
Plan for The Possibilities and Prepare
- Make sure that you let the airline know your needs as early as possible about your chair.
- Even though on domestic flights, U.S. carriers must fully compensate passengers for loss or damage to wheelchairs or other assistive devices, without regard to rules limiting liability for lost or damaged baggage, this is not the case o all international flights.
- So make sure you have adequate insurance to cover damage to or loss of your wheelchair or scooter as well as personal injury. Here is a good link for insurance or you can purchase with the booking or via your credit card company.
- As a precaution against loss or damage, always remove all detachable parts before your wheelchair is stored, and label the chair with your name and address and destination airport.
- Consider creating a “special handling tag” ( where not to lift, how to put the chair in push mode) put it in a page protector.
- Make a Fragile Do Not Drop Store Upright sign. You can attach with zip ties and reuse as often as necessary
- Take pictures before your trip. Show all angles, so you can document any damage done.
- Wrap joysticks in bubble wrap. You can also use blue painters tape or Gorilla Tape, which can be torn with your hands.
- Bring a carry-on for the chargers and pad the chargers with your coats or extra clothing.
Arrive early. Be calm and assertive as to what you need them to do and do not feel pressured to be rushed.
If you have damage, report it before leaving the airport.
Ask for the CRO
In the event of a problem with the airport or inflight personnel, you can require them to contact the Complaints Resolution Officer (CRO), who can assist you with your grievance.
Other tips for a more successful and stress-free flight:
Ask for a bulk seat or a seat with more leg room
Most airlines have a special assistance line which will book these seats in advance. If not, they may be able to make adjustments where you check your luggage.
Ask for assistance when you check in through security and to gate
Even if you are traveling with someone, they may have luggage to carry and not being able to assist you as well, and it can be more time consuming and challenging to get through security when on wheels.
Having a trained attendant is a valuable and free service.
They will show you the way through to your gate, take off your back-back, put all your belongings in the bins, and help you get in front of the line at security (wheelchairs have priority to get in front of line, and you will need it as you will be required to go through a hand pat down and this takes more time than walking through the screeners).
Even if you are strong enough to push, or have an electric or power assist chair, having someone guide you through what can be a stressful airport with alternate routes for wheelchairs via elevators and back hallways, can make your trip more enjoyable. Plus, these wonderful airline employees work hard on low wages to perform this job and appreciate a tip (although they are not allowed to ask).
For more information here is the Manual from Transportation Dept. on YOUR RIGHTS via the Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA)