Although the blogosphere is all atwitter about the recent denied boarding of a quadriplegic passenger who used seatbelt extensions to stabilize his chest and legs, nobody has really addressed the legality of it all. That’s because there’s really nothing in the Air Carrier Access Act that specifically allows or prohibits this type of adaptation. Not just seatbelt extensions, but any kind of torso support.
So what’s a traveler (or in this case an airline) to do? Quite simply, you ask the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) for their opinion on the matter; because after all it’s a safety issue. And as we all know, safety trumps access in all air travel matters. So that’s exactly what Frontier Airlines did.
To that end, Denver Channel 7 News reported yesterday that Frontier spokesman Peter Kowalchuk stated that the FAA “has informed Frontier that the use of seatbelt extensions to assist a passenger in maintaining an upright sitting position is not an approved use of those devices.”
And although one Frontier pilot thought it was unsafe, another felt the seat belt extensions were OK. It’s a safety call that’s up to the captain, in lieu of any written regulations. And now that the FAA has apparently made a decision on the issue, I expect we’ll see some airlines incorporating that into their procedure manuals. So watch for stricter regulations on securement devices in the future, and make sure and check with the airline regarding the issue — even if you’ve flown with them before.
I expect this will be something on the radar of most airlines in the years to come. And I also expect to see a lot of changes over that time.