With the busy holiday travel season just around the corner, lots of folks are writing about travel these days. And some of them are even writing about accessible travel. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m delighted to see more mainstream coverage of this former niche subject; however some of these new articles fall a little short in the fact checking department. And those errors and omissions could be dangerous to readers who rely on the information to plan their trips.
Case and point is an article penned by a writer who chronicled her interaction with a lady with a broken foot and how difficult the air journey was for her. I have no doubt it was difficult, as I’ve been down that road myself. When I broke my foot in Little Rock last spring, I traveled back to California before I sought medical attention. It’s a long story, but let’s just say I’m a very stubborn Irish woman. It was a horrible journey, but to be honest it’s pretty much what I expected. From the TSA agent who whacked my injured foot with her wand, to the six-hour weather delay in Dallas, it wasn’t exactly a walk in the park. But as I said, it was pretty much what I expected.
But I digress. In the aforementioned article the writer said that the broken foot lady complained because the gate agent would not change her seat from a middle seat to a window or aisle seat. She then offered advice to other folks facing similar issues, and stated that the airlines are required to accommodate passengers with disabilities and that it was her right to have a window or aisle seat under the Air Carriers Access Act (ACAA).
Wrong! Wrong! Wrong!
Granted it would have been nice if the gate agent would have accommodated her, but was he required to do so? Legally, no. Sure, a broken foot can be considered a disability, albeit a temporary one; however nowhere in the ACAA does it state that disabled passengers have dibs on window or aisle seats. Folks with a fused leg (a knee that cannot bend) have some additional rights (they are entitled to bulkhead seating, with advance notice) but a broken foot doesn’t entitle you to pass on the middle seat.
On the other hand, a 1998 amendment to the ACAA requires all US airlines to designate an adequate number of seats with flip-up aisle armrests as priority seats for individuals with disabilities. These seats are required to be available to passengers who use an aisle chair to board the aircraft and who cannot readily transfer over a fixed armrest.
So there you have it.
Non-middle seat? No.
Flip-up armrest? Yes.
And that’s the real story.