As you can imagine I get a lot of questions about air travel. I also get a lot of comments about what people think should be changed about the whole air travel experience to make it more accessible to wheelchair-users. I received one of those comments today.
“I think the airlines should make some provisions for wheelchair-users who can’t transfer or who have a difficult time using those very uncomfortable aisle chairs. Why can’t they just remove a few seats and put in some tie downs so we can just roll on to the airplane? It would be a lot easier on both the customers and the employees. Have the airlines ever considered this?”
Since I receive a question similar to this at least once a week, I thought I’d take a few minutes here to discuss why this seemingly simple solution will not work.
Basically, it is a safety issue. Although it’s possible to wheel on to a bus that only goes 60 mph, the same can’t be said of an airliner that reaches speeds in excess of 200 mph. The bottom line is, that at those high speeds it’s very possible for a wheelchair to become a projectile object and injure other passengers. Of course people usually counter this with, “Well if there was a secure lock down system that wouldn’t be a problem.”
Not exactly. No matter how secure the lock down system, if there was some weakness in the wheelchair itself, it could break apart and again, become a projectile object.
The FAA (who is in charge of airline safety) is not about to take a chance on this happening. That’s why the airlines have enclosed overhead bins, so items can be securely stowed there.
There is just no way to securely stow an occupied wheelchair in the airline cabin. That’s why we have the system we do now. Is it perfect? No, but it is a whole lot better than 25 years ago, when an unaccompanied wheelchair-user could be denied boarding. And yes, that did happen a lot.
So, if an air travel trip is in your future, your best course of action is to learn your rights so you know what to expect during the whole air travel experience. And as far as improving air travel goes, let’s concentrate on things we can change, like limiting wheelchair damage and getting prompt wheelchair assistance between connecting flights.
Air travel could always use some improvement, but we just have to realize what we can and can’t do. Staying in your own wheelchair is just not doable.