Things are Not Always as They Seem


I’m usually glad to see accessible travel get more mainstream publicity; however a recent article in the New York Times about airline passengers faking a disability just to get through security faster, left me a little bit irritated. Granted, the writer tried to present both sides of the story, but the article also strongly implied that folks should “look disabled” in order to avail themselves of airport wheelchairs.

And I strongly disagree with that conclusion.

The writer began by telling folks about a woman who “whizzed” past the TSA line in an airport wheelchair, only to stand up and ‘hoist” her carry-on bags off the conveyor belt. And with those actions, the writer concluded that she didn’t deserve an airport wheelchair because she wasn’t disabled.

Furthermore, the writer went on to state that some travelers “exploit the only remaining loophole to a breezy airport experience – the line cutting privileges given to people who request airport wheelchairs, for which no proof of a disability is required.”

And I really take issue with that!

First of all, I don’t care if you walk, limp or roll, there is no such thing as a “breezy” airport experience today. Period.

But beyond that, many folks who don’t normally use a wheelchair do require one when they travel.

  • They may have trouble standing for long periods of time.
  • They may not be able to walk more than a few steps.
  • They may have a condition that is unpredictable in regards to energy levels.

And in all cases, it’s quite conceivable that they may also be able to walk a few steps and “hoist“ a carry-on bag. There’s no “loophole exploiting” going on – it’s just a basic need for some assistance across a large airport.

Of course the writer also notes that the airlines are prohibited from asking passengers to prove their disability; however it’s implied that this is a bad thing. Think about it for a minute. Let’s say you twist your ankle or fall while on vacation, and you order an airport wheelchair because it’s a bit painful to walk. Should you be required to show a doctors proof of disability? Isn’t being unable to comfortably walk enough?

The “don’t ask” law was put into place to protect the privacy of the traveling public. After all, you shouldn’t be required to divulge the personal details of your health just to board a plane.

The writer also addresses the issue of “miracle flights” – where some passengers need a wheelchair to board but don’t need one to deplane. Again, very misleading, as there may be many reasons for this. At the top of the list are overprotective adult children – something that I plead guilty to.

Back when my mother-in-law was traveling, we always encouraged her to use an airport wheelchair. She had COPD and really had a hard time walking distances. She would of course insist she could do it on her own, but when she tired out it was like she hit a wall. She just couldn’t go any further. She finally agreed to the airport wheelchair, and we were happy to wave good-bye to her as the attendant took her to her gate. We also thought that she would be using one in her connecting cities as well. Wrong! She was one of those “miraculously healed” passengers. And she probably didn’t tell the flight attendants that she only used the wheelchair to humor her kids. I’m sure she said that she felt better and didn’t need a wheelchair at her destination.

And I know she wasn’t alone!

To be fair, I think there are some legitimate fakers out there; in fact, I even know a travel writer who used one to zip through customs. But for the most part, I think the fakers are few and far between.

The bottom line is, airport wheelchairs are for anyone who feels they need a little extra assistance; whether they are just having a bad day, a little low on energy or even humoring their overprotective children.

So, don’t let that New York Times article deter you from requesting one – if you need it – on your next flight. It’s much better to err on the side of caution and conserve your energy, then to arrive at your destination too tired to enjoy anything.