Don’t Get Left at the Gate!


Learn the law, so you don’t get left at the gate!

Sometimes knowing the finer points of the Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA) can make the difference between having a trouble-free flight, and literally being left at the gate. Such was the case for Jerremy Lorch, a wheelchair-user who was recently denied boarding on an Air Canada flight to Toronto from the Greater Rochester International Airport.

Lorch had flown many times before without incident, and he appeared to do all the right things before his ill-fated flight. He informed the airline in advance that he could not walk and that he would require boarding assistance. He got to the airport early, and he even received a boarding pass with the wheelchair pictogram on it when he arrived. It’s when he got to the gate that things started to go terribly wrong.

Although the ACAA requires the airlines to provide level, ramped or lift boarding in most cases, Lorch was the exception to the rule. You see, he was booked on one of the exempt aircraft — the Beechcraft 1900D — and under the law boarding assistance is not required on those planes. It’s also not required on planes than have fewer than 19 seats, and the Beechcraft 1900D only seats 18.

So Lorch was denied boarding, and the rest of his travel plans were scrapped. Air Canada did however give him a full refund.

Technically the airline acted within the constraints of the law.

But shouldn’t Air Canada have uncovered this problem before it was time to board? Probably. In this day and age it would seem simple to flag the exempt aircraft, but apparently that didn’t happen. At the very least they should have notified him 48 hours prior to the flight to tell him that he wouldn’t be able to board the aircraft, but that didn’t happen either.

So in the end Lorch was left at the gate.

But that doesn’t have to happen to you. And one way to prevent that is to be on the lookout for exempt aircraft when you search for your flights. And with that in mind, here they are:

  • Fairchild Metro
  • Jetstream 31
  • Jetstream 32
  • Beechcraft 1900C
  • Beechcraft 1900D
  • Embraer EMB-120

It’s also a good idea to check the seat map to make sure the aircraft in question has 19 or more seats.

So be an informed consumer and a savvy traveler. Learn the law to avoid being left at the gate.