I got an e-mail from a reader a few weeks ago that seemed rather odd. Not the e-mail mind you, but rather the subject the reader was addressing. Basically she wrote to tell me that as she was boarding her United flight in Oklahoma City last month, the gate agent informed her that United will soon be rolling out a new policy that will require passengers to reclaim and recheck their wheelchairs at connecting cities, as a condition of gate checking them.
Of course my friend was horrified, because as a frequent traveler and a full time power wheelchair-user, she knows that she already has precious few moments to connect to her flights. After all, she’s the last person off the airplane, so her connections are sometimes tighter than she would like. But if United actually implemented this ludicrous policy, it would make air travel more difficult for wheelchair-users.
So I checked in with my sources at United and they assured me that no new policy is in the works, and it was probably just an employee who misunderstood things. Fair enough. I was happy to provide the exact date, time and place where the information was disseminated, so United can make sure that all their employees are properly trained.
Which leads me to the major point of this blog entry — just because an airline employee says that something is true, that doesn’t necessarily make it so. So what should you do if you find yourself in the same situation as my friend?
First and foremost, don’t panic.
Second, get documentation. Like my friend, find out who you are talking to, and write down names, dates and times. If it’s not something that immediately effects you, carry on with your travels and then follow up on the incident when you get home
If it is something that immediately impacts you — say an employee insists that you reclaim and recheck your wheelchair in your connecting city — ask to speak to the Complaints Resolution Official (CRO). All airlines are required to have one on duty during operating hours. The CRO is well versed in the law and disability issues, and will be able to come up with a workable solution to the problem.
In any case, I’m glad we were able to nip this one in the bud, before a lot of false information was disseminated.
Just remember, airline employees are only human and sometimes they get things wrong too; so don’t take everything they say as the gospel. But in order to know when something is going wrong, you also have to know what right is. So, learn your rights and responsibilities, travel smart and don’t be afraid to ask for the CRO.