I got a note form my friend Ron Pettit this morning, calling attention to a few facts in my last blog entry regarding airline cabin upgrades, the elimination of closets and wheelchair storage. Ron pointed out that the ACAA doesn?t require every airline to store the wheelchairs in the on-board closet and that an alternate space (if approved by the FAA) is acceptable. He?s right, but the reason I didn?t mention that specifically, is that I felt I implied it by citing one example of alternate wheelchair storage space.
No matter, if you were confused by it all, let me set you straight. Aircraft with 100 or more seats must provide on-board storage space for at least one manual wheelchair. In most cases this space is in the closet, but some airlines have FAA approved alternate wheelchair storage spaces on some of their aircraft. In most cases, these aircraft don?t have closets or have very small closets. So if you board an aircraft with 100 or more seats and the flight attendant says you can?t store your manual wheelchair on board because they don?t have a closet, you need to ask them where their alternate wheelchair storage space is located.
OK, granted they probably won?t know, if indeed they are telling you that you have to gate check your wheelchair because they don?t have a closet; however, it will at least open up the dialogue, and perhaps a supervisor or the CRO can solve the problem. After all, the goal is to avoid the cargo bin whenever possible!
And while we are on the subject of the CRO, Ron noted that they are only required to be on duty while the airport is open. In some cases that is 24 hours, but in other cases it is not. Again, I felt that was implied, because if you?re not at the airport why would you need a CRO? I probably should have said something like the CRO is required to be available round-the-clock during airport operating hours. So in other words if your flight gets in at 2 AM the CRO will still be available for you, should a problem arise.
In any case, I guess the one thing that really concerns me (regarding the AA upgrades mentioned in my last blog) is that most airlines don?t make arrangements for alternate wheelchair storage space when making cabin alterations. They subsequently end up making such arrangements after a DOT complaint is filed by somebody who could not store their wheelchair on board. So if someone from American Airlines is reading this, please plan ahead.
As for the rest of your travelers, it pays to check out the cabin configuration on your favorite website (personally I prefer www.seatguru.com) and if you don?t see any on-board closets, then I?d call the airline to find out where their alternate storage space is, or if they even have any. If they say they don?t, that?s a red flag.
If you do encounter problems, I encourage you to call the DOT Aviation Consumer Disability Hotline at (866) 266-1368. Although it?s not a 24-hour service, these folks can help you with your air travel access issues during regular business hours.