Premium Wheelchair Service at MSP?

In reading a USA Today article about the ongoing failure of wheelchair-assistance at select airports in the US, I happened across a new solution to the problem.

For a long time we’ve focused on the low pay that the “wheelchair-assistance” contractors receive, as being the reason for this problem. And apparently in some cases, low pay equates with inadequate training and a high turnover. OK, I can accept that.

But I think that another reason for the failure is the dramatic increase of travelers who need airport wheelchair assistance. And for the most part this is due to the aging Baby Boomers taking to the friendly skies. After all, we have a large group here with both the means and the desire to travel. And some of them need airport wheelchair-assistance.

And although there may be a long line of airport wheelchairs at the check-in counter, there just aren’t enough contractors to assist passengers. The obvious solution is to hire more contractors, but that’s an expensive proposition for the airlines. But the folks at MSP have another solution.

It’s called “premium wheelchair service”. According to the USA Today article, “For a fee, passengers will be able to hire an attendant who will meet them at their gate with a sign bearing their name and a reserved wheelchair.” Of course this service is only in the testing stages, but who knows, it may very well be the solution.

Think about it — if you could pay a little more and be guaranteed that someone would be waiting at your gate with a wheelchair with your name on it, wouldn’t you avail yourself of that service? Of course the standard service would still be available for those folks who don’t want to pay extra, but this service would be an access upgrade of sorts.

Personally I think it’s a great idea. Not only would it take some of the burden off the folks that provide the standard service, but the new premium service would be self-funded for the most part. For years we’ve all been banging our heads against the wall trying to find a solution to the wheelchair-assistance problem. Perhaps we were just looking in the wrong place.

I’m very interested in hearing about the results of this new test program. Perhaps it’s a solution that will catch on at other airports. Kudos to the folks at MSP for thinking outside the box on this one.