In a surprising turn of events, United Airlines plans to start charging disabled customers for excess medical equipment carried as checked baggage. Beginning on May 5, 2008 United will institute a $25 charge for a second checked bag. And although it would appear that “medical equipment” should not count toward that checked baggage allowance, United has a different idea about it.
In fact, here is the exact rule from the United website:
“An extra wheelchair may be checked and not be part of your checked bag allowance (or assessed a fee) if it is strictly for mobility purposes or is required to make a living. Other medical equipment that is checked as baggage will be considered as part of your checked baggage allotment and fees would apply if you exceed your free allowance.”
So I’m thinking commode chairs, extra medical supplies and even hoyer lifts would fall under that category.
But what about the Air Carrier Access Act? Doesn’t it prohibit such surcharges?
Well, technically the ACAA only mentions “carry-on baggage” (aside from wheelchairs) in regards to baggage limits. Below is a quote from the ACAA:
“382.41(d) Carriers shall not, in implementing their carry-on baggage policies, count toward a limit on carry-on items any assistive device brought into the cabin by a qualified individual with a disability.”
Although the ACAA prohibits general discrimination by the carriers, it doesn’t specifically prohibit carriers from charging extra for excess medical equipment carried in the baggage compartment. Nor does it appear to exempt medical equipment from excess baggage charges.
It does however address charges for provisions that are required under the ACAA (for example, wheelchair assistance or an aisle chair)
” 382.57 Charges for accommodations prohibited. Carriers shall not impose charges for providing facilities, equipment, or services that are required by this part [the ACAA] to be provided to qualified individuals with a disability.”
But since “carrying extra medical supplies in the baggage compartment?”is not specifically mentioned, well it could be argued that it doesn’t apply.
I’m going to see what my contact at the DOT has to say on the matter tomorrow. It will be interesting to see how it all turns out.