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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Covid-19 and the Cruise Industry – What’s Next?

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The Covid-19 Pandemic will undoubtedly change a lot of things, from where we shop, to how receive health care. Once the dust settles and businesses begin to reopen, leisure travel will again be something to consider. And I think the travel industry is in for even more changes; in fact, I believe travel in post-Covid-19 times will be an entirely different experience, especially for cruise ship passengers. Continue reading

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Proposed Regulation on Accessible Lavatories on Narrow Body Aircraft Open for Public Comment

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On December 11, 2019 the Department of Transportation (DOT) opened public comments for a proposed amendment to the Air Carrier Access Act, that would require accessible lavatories and on-board wheelchairs on single aisle aircraft that have 125 or more seats. Currently accessible lavatories are only required on wide body jets. Continue reading

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DOT Updates ACAA Service Animal Regulations

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In August 8, 2019 the Department of Transportation issued a “Final Statement of Enforcement Policies Regarding Service Animals on Flights”. This document, which clarifies some points in the Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA) in regards to service animals and emotional support animals, is the result of a public process which began in May 2018. This process was initiated after the DOT received a number of airline complaints about passengers who were skirting the rules and evading pet carrier fees by falsely claiming that their pets were needed for emotional support. Over 4,500 public comments were received after the Preliminary Rule was posted. Continue reading

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Come on DOT – Let’s Talk ESAs!

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Well it happened again last month – another emotional support animal (ESA) misbehaved on a flight. This isn’t news, as it seems to be the norm these days. Pretty much anyone can go online and purchase “ESA credentials” so they can fly free with their pets. Just google “emotional support animal credentials” and you’ll get a listing of what I call “card mills” that – for a price — provide certificates, vests and other accessories that will allow your dog to accompany you anywhere. Continue reading

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IATA Passes Accessible Air Travel Resolution

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Early last month the The International Air Transport Association (IATA) approved an accessible air travel resolution at their 75th Annual General Meeting in Seoul, South Korea. The resolution calls upon governments to follow IATA’s core principles for accommodating disabled passengers, and hopes to bring the travel sector together with regulators in order to provide consistent air travel access regulations throughout the world. Continue reading

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DOT to Address Emotional Support Animal Issue

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airplane_landing_199029As the result of the passage of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Reauthorization Act of 2018, it looks like the Department of Transportation (DOT) is set to address the emotional support animal issue in 2019. Continue reading

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National Corvette Museum Clearly Defines “Service Animal” — Let’s Hope Other Businesses Follow Suit!

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450px-Emmet_Practices_Opening_a_Power_DoorIt’s no secret that we’re seeing an increase in service animals and emotional support animals here in the US. There are many reasons for this, but the “card mills” which sell service animal certifications, leashes and vests on the internet have definitely helped increase the number of pets that now “claim” service animal status. And for what it’s worth – save your money, as no certifications are required in the US; in fact it’s illegal to ask for them. Continue reading

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Remembering Fallen Friends on this ADA Anniversary

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Betsy Volk and Trooper

Betsy Volk and Trooper

Today marks 28 years since the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was signed into law. And although some folks lament that we still have access problems, I prefer to look at how far we have come on this day. Although accessible travel certainly wasn’t a priority back in the beginning, it has gained momentum over the years. And that’s not just because we don’t institutionalize folks who are disabled any more — it’s also because some hearty souls paved the way “back in the day.” And because they were my friends, I’d like to give credit where credit is due on this ADA anniversary. Continue reading

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