I’ve written extensively about wheelchair-users who have been denied boarding on non-US airlines; however this anomaly is not strictly limited to foreign soil. Case and point is when US Airways denied boarding to Andy Gates last Wednesday because he was deemed “unable to assist in his own evacuation in the event of an emergency” by US Airways personnel.
Mr. Gates has dystonia and uses a wheelchair. He also said that he demonstrated that he’s able to get into his wheelchair to US Air personnel. All to no avail. The answer was still no.
US Airways did offer to let Mr. Gates’ mother accompany him, however she was unable to because of a medical appointment the following day. And to be fair, they only gave her six minutes to decide.
Did US Airways act within the law? Well, technically yes, however with a little compassion this whole mess could have been avoided. Under the Air Carrier Access Act, US airlines can require that you travel with an attendant if they feel you cannot assist with your own evacuation. Furthermore they can assign an attendant to you (usually another passenger); however they are not required to do so. So the bottom line is, if you aren’t proactive, they can deny you boarding.
How can you be proactive in this situation?
Well, the best suggestion is to ask another passenger to be your attendant in case of an emergency. Explain that they only thing they would have to do is to assist you if an emergency evacuation was necessary. In most cases it won’t be a problem and you’ll have your attendant and be able to board.
As I said, what US Airways did is legal, but not very compassionate. In other cases (and on other airlines ) I’ve seen flight attendants ask a person in the neighboring seat if they would serve as the emergency evacuation attendant for a disabled passenger. Why couldn’t the US Airways flight attendants do the same thing? Like I said, not very compassionate.
In any case, Mr. Gates plans to book a flight on another air carrier.
But this is something to keep in mind in case you are ever denied boarding. Just tell the flight attendant you want to ask the person in the adjacent seat if he or she will be your emergency evacuation attendant.
Sometimes you just have to take matters into your own hands. Knowing the law helps a little too.