Although we don’t have very many denied boardings to disabled travelers these days, they do happen. And since it happened to a friend at LAX yesterday, I thought it might be a good time to go over what you should do if it happens to you.
In my friend’s case he was trying to get to Beijing on Air China. He didn’t request an aisle chair, because he doesn’t usually use one. I don’t know how he transfers – I didn’t ask him – but he’s an athlete and pretty fit, and I’m pretty sure he knows his own abilities. In any case, the ticket agent told my friend that Air China requires 48 hours advance notice if you are traveling in a wheelchair. And since my friend didn’t give it, they wouldn’t let him on the plane. Even after he tried to reason with the ticket agents and reservation agents, they wouldn’t budge. So he cancelled his ticket, and had to pay a hefty $350 penalty.
And while all of this is unfolding via social media, I’m screaming “CRO” at the top of my lungs. But unfortunately by the time I typed it, he had already cancelled his ticket.
So let’s just look at what the law says for a minute. Since this is a flight from the US on a foreign air carrier, it is covered by the Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA). Under section 382.25 of the ACAA, airlines are specifically prohibited from requiring advance notice, unless specific services, such as supplemental oxygen, are required. Furthermore the Department of Transportation (DOT) holds that requiring advance notice would be contrary to the nondiscrimination objective of the ACAA, as sometimes people must travel on short notice for business or personal reasons.
And Air China doesn’t even appear to require advance notice, they just “suggest” it. This was copied from their website:
“Therefore we suggest our customers, no matter if they booked their tickets through travel agencies or through our website, please contact us after the confirmation of booking and at least 48 hours before flight departure, as well as explain your condition and any assistance that you need to the service staff in order to let us make the appropriate arrangements for you as soon as possible.
That’s suggest, not require.
Either way Air China was wrong.
- They can’t require advance notice.
- My friend didn’t need any special services.
So what should you do if you find yourself in a similar situation?
First and foremost ask to speak to the Complaints Resolution Official (CRO). Under the ACAA , the airlines are required to have a CRO on duty while the airport is open. If the employee you are talking to does not know what a CRO is, ask to speak to a supervisor, as they are intimately familiar with the workings and duties of the CRO. In any case, this airline employee is educated in the ACAA and trained to solve disability-related issues such as this.
The story did have a somewhat happy ending though. My friend booked a flight the next day on United and made it to Beijing. Although his wallet is a little lighter because of this whole experience, he will be filing complaints with DOT and the airline, and I’m quite sure they will see fit to refund him the cancellation charges.
But if this ever happens to you – always remember the CRO!