Flyer Beware – American Airlines Limits Wheelchair Weight

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airplane window

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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In Case of Fire

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Emergency evacuation instructions in the right place — at wheelchair height.

Imagine the following scenario. It’s the middle of the night and you are sound asleep. Then you hear a loud noise – a fire alarm. You jump to attention and sit up in bed, and then you realize that you are not at home. You are in a hotel. You think you are on the second floor but you are not sure – you’ve been on the road for a week and all the rooms kind of meld together.

Oh yes, did I also mention that you are in a wheelchair and traveling alone? Continue reading

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Accessible Travel Netherlands Announces 2020 River Cruises

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Accessible Travel Netherlands recently announced the dates for their 2020 accessible river cruises aboard the accessible Prins Willem Alexander. This former hospital ship has 25 accessible cabins which are each equipped with two hospital beds, a wash basin, an emergency call button, and plenty of room for even the largest wheelchair or scooter. Continue reading

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Westchester Lyft Lawsuit Moves Forward

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In what appears to be a move to skirt the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) last month, rideshare giant Lyft claimed once again that it is not in the transportation business, and therefor is not not subject to the ADA. They further alleged that they are instead in the information business. Continue reading

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Excellent Accessible Amsterdam Resource

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amsterdamI’m always on the lookout for good resources for slow walkers and wheelchair-users; but I have to admit I stumbled upon Able Amsterdam (http://www.ableamsterdam.com) quite by accident. Either way, this combination blog and resource page is a must-read if Amsterdam is on your travel radar. Continue reading

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Hong Kong Airlines Denies Passage to Solo Wheelchair Passenger

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airplane cockpitEarly this month Hong Kong Airlines denied passage to a wheelchair-user who was traveling alone. Twenty-two year old Shen Chengqing was scheduled to travel from Hong Kong to Tianjin, but airport staff refused to check her in when they discovered she was traveling solo. According to Chengqing, she notified the reservation agent that she used a wheelchair when she bought her ticket.

So what happened? Continue reading

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