How Much Help should You Expect from Wheelchair Pushers?


I was browsing through the Washington Post this weekend, when I found an interesting quote from a spokesman from Air Serv, a company that provides wheelchair pushers to a number of air carriers. He said that travelers should feel free to ask for extra help from wheelchair pushers.

Hmmm. Well I guess you can ask, but legally they aren’t required to give you that much extra help. Of course I guess that depends on how he defines extra help.

Sure, if you need help with your luggage then I’d ask. That qualifies as one of the things wheelchair pushers do. And of course, tip appropriately. Sure, tips are never required (that’s why they are called tips, not fees) but in some cases (like at restaurants) they are just expected for good service. But again, tipping is a personal choice.

What not to expect form wheelchair pushers? Assistance in the bathroom or stopping for something to eat. In fact the revised Air Carrier Access Act (which takes effect May 13, 2009) is very specific about the limitations of those duties.

As far as bathroom stops go, the ACAA states that wheelchair pushers are only required to stop at the entrance to the bathroom if it’s along the route to the gate and if it can be accomplished without an unreasonable delay. The wheelchair pusher is not required to provide personal care attendant services (assistance in the bathroom), detour to a different route or incur an unreasonable delay. An unreasonable delay is further defined as any delay which would result in the passenger not getting to the gate on time. So if you are late for your next flight, a stop at the restroom en route would be considered unreasonable.

A word of advice here. If you need to use the facilities, tell the wheelchair pusher at the beginning of the ride. Don’t wait till you get to the gate to make this request. If you wait till you get to the gate, you will have already passed up the restrooms that are “along the route of travel”. And remember, the wheelchair-pusher’s assistance ends at the entrance to the restroom.

And food stops? Well, they aren’t specifically mentioned in the text of the law as something that is required; however in the preamble it is noted that quick stops would be OK; however even in the case of “fast food” a long line could create an unreasonable delay. A “sit down” restaurant is definitely our of the question. So basically you can grab a quick sandwich to go if there’s no line; however if the fast food line is long, probably not.

And I have to say, that in my experience, fast food lines are long at airports. So, if you have a long day, pack along some snacks. You’ll be better off in the long run anyway. The last time I stopped for fast food at the airport I got a Mc Chicken sandwich without the bottom bun. And when I took it back to the counter, the Mc Employee looked at me like I was an idiot for bringing it back. I can still hear that heavy sigh and see the rolling of those baby blues.

So plan ahead and learn the law. And when that wheelchair pusher helps you with those two oversize bags on the luggage carousel, don’t be shy with the green stuff.