Jet Blue made the news in the disabled community again last week. It seems this low cost airline is looking to expand their fleet with airplanes that lack US-mandated access features. Under the Air Carrier Access Act, aircraft with 100 or more seats must have an on-board closet with room to stow at least one manual wheelchair. The Brazilian-made Embraer E-190s, which Jet Blue ordered, lack this feature.
To add insult to injury Jet Blue requested a waiver from the Department of Transportation (DOT) on the grounds that the new E-190s lack the space to store a wheelchair-on board. Alternatively the airline proposed that all wheelchairs be stowed in the forward cargo section.
Apparently Jet Blue does not understand that the reason for storing a wheelchair on-board is to avoid the damage caused in the cargo bin. It is not merely a matter of convenience.
If the DOT’s recent rulings are any indication, it’s doubtful that the waiver will be granted. At least we can hope it won’t. After all this would set a dangerous precedent. Seeing as the DOT recently fined several airlines (including Jet Blue) for failing to provide adequate on-board wheelchair stowage space, I personally don’t see how in good conscience the DOT can grant this waiver.
The Paralyzed Veterans of America apparently agree with me, as they are opposing Jet Blue’s request.
Ironically if Jet Blue would remove seats to accommodate the on-board stowage of one wheelchair, this ACAA provision would not apply as the aircraft would have less than 100 seats.
So let’s hope Jet Blue and the DOT will do the right thing.