Flyer Beware – American Airlines Limits Wheelchair Weight

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On October 21, 2020, veteran airline passenger John Morris encountered a new hiccup in the world of wheelchair travel. That’s when American Airlines ground personnel at Gainesville Regional Airport  refused to load his power wheelchair on his flight to Dallas.

Why?

Because it weighed in at over 300 pounds.

Can they do that? Doesn’t the Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA) prohibit things like that? Well, yes and no. Although American Airlines quoted a passage in the discussion section of the old  May 13, 2008 ACAA update, the spirit of the law probably still applies, and at least gives them some wiggle room.

The issue apparently is with American’s smaller aircraft —  the Bombardier CRJ700 in this case. It’s unknown if the airline  just doesn’t want to risk possible wheelchair damage or if it is truly a safety issue. But apparently their new weight limit regulation for wheelchairs went into effect on June 12, 2020.

The current version of the ACAA touches on this issue in §382.127:

“Whenever baggage compartment size and aircraft airworthiness considerations do not prohibit doing so, you must, as a carrier, accept a passenger’s battery-powered wheelchair or other similar mobility device.”

So the argument could be made that if the compartment size and/or aircraft airworthiness are an issue, then an airline can indeed prohibit carrying wheelchairs over 300 pounds on smaller aircraft. I’m sure the attorneys will sort it all out somewhere down the line, but for now what’s a wheelchair-user to do?

First off, right now I would avoid American Airlines. I’ve not heard of any other carriers that have instituted this new policy, but that’s not to say that they won’t. Keep an eye on the special services section of your airline’s website to see if any new limitations pop up.

Second, know the weight of your wheelchair. Five pounds can make a big difference. If possible take off any equipment, like the footrests that could lighten the load a bit. And remember to take along a bag to put them in.

Ask the airline if they would consider removing the battery. This could also lighten the load.

Last but not least, become familiar with aircraft choices. In most cases you don’t have a choice of aircraft when flying into regional airports, but sometimes you do at larger hubs. Go for the larger aircraft whenever possible.

And I guess the best thing that everyone can do, is to just be aware of this issue. Although it’s not the ideal solution, knowledge in this case is power. Give you hard earned money to another air carrier – one that will carry your heavy wheelchair.

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No Accessible Room at the Inn? Tell the DOJ!

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s-l640I’ve been getting a fair share of mail from travelers who booked an accessible room at a US hotel, but then arrived to find that the room had been given to another guest. Basically the all ask me “How can we get hotels to actually save the accessible rooms for people who need them?” Continue reading

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Air India Boots Power Wheelchair-User

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airplane_landing_199029Although travelers in the US are used to the protections that the Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA) affords them in this country (and on flights to and from the US), that’s not how it works on foreign soil. In fact, I routinely get reports of wheelchair-users who were unceremoniously denied boarding at airports throughout Asia. Such is the case of Kaushik Majumdar, who recently tried to board an Air India flight from Bengaluru to Kolkata.

Notice, I said “tried”.

According to reports of the incident Majumdar was told at check-in that he would have to remove the dry-cell battery from his power wheelchair and transfer to a manual wheelchair at the gate. After he did this, he was also informed that he would have to disconnect all of the wires that ran to the battery case. Being leery about his ability to properly reconnect the wires, and concerned about possible damage to his wheelchair, he refused. And then Air India refused to accept him as a passenger.

Should this have happened? Well no it shouldn’t have, but it did. And although in the US, the ACAA prohibits the removal of non-spillable batteries that are appropriately marked and installed, that’s not the way it works with Air India.

So this is just a little heads up if you happen to have India on your bucket list. Tread lightly with Air India, as they don’t appear to be “power-wheelchair friendly”. And no matter where you travel, check with the airline to see what their policies are regarding the stowage of assistive devices before you buy your ticket. A little advance research could possible save you a whole lot of heartache – not to mention a ruined trip. In this case, forewarned is definitely forearmed!

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Should We Celebrate the ADA Anniversary?

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barrier-418450_640Recently I’ve seen a lot of posts and comments from younger people who think we shouldn’t celebrate the anniversary of the signing of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), quite simply because it does not go far enough. They claim that without any real enforcement, public entities are not held to the standards laid out by the US Access Board. Continue reading

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Florida Law Addresses “Fake” Service Animals

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trooperIn June of last year the Florida State Legislature amended CS/HB 71 on service animals, to reflect changes in the Americans with Disabilities Act and to update the language. The law took effect on July 1, 2015. Most of the changes were innocuous, however there are two interesting additions to the law. Continue reading

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Proposed Arizona Law Problematic for People with Disabilities

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The debate rages on in Arizona, over whether a person who identifies with a specific gender should be able to use the restroom of that gender. In fact, if Republicans have their way, transgender people will have to use the restroom of the gender stated on their birth certificate, or else face jail time.

Not exactly a disability issue, you say? Well, think again. Continue reading

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