You may recall the case in which a wheelchair traveler was removed from a US Airways flight. The airline's reasoning was that the man, a motivational speaker who flies regularly, would not be able to help himself in case of emergency and would require an assistant.
According to the Air Carrier Access Act, if the passenger can explain how he or she is capable of traveling independently, and the airline staff disagrees, an attendant can fly free of charge or the carrier may provide an assistant for the passenger, like an off-duty crew member.
As for the gentleman who was kicked off the US Airways flight? He rebooked himself two days later on a Delta Air Lines flight with no problems.
For more details, take a look at the Department of Transportation's frequently asked questions regarding the Air Carrier Access Act.
Ground Transportation From the Airport
In general, public transportation is difficult because schedules vary and subway elevators can break, leaving you stranded underground. A better option is to use an airport shuttle. Many hotels provide a wheelchair-accessible shuttle for free, but make sure to ask if one is available before you book your hotel.
If these options are not available, most major cities now have wheelchair-accessible taxis. However, Gutwein points out, based on availability "this could possibly take a long time. I've heard of waits around an hour and that's just totally unacceptable. This is where we need to see the improvement in terms of service and make it cost-effective."
For long-term accessible transportation, there is always the option of arranging the rental of an accessible vehicle. In almost every major city in the country, you can find a mobility equipment dealer that will rent an accessible van for the duration of your trip. They'll even pick you up at the airport. You can find more information on locating an accessible vehicle near your destination at the National Mobility Equipment Dealers Association website.
As a wheelchair traveler, the rule of thumb is to plan ahead. Notify the airlines at least 48 hours before departure, and again prior to check-in. During the holiday rush, airline staff will be stretched thin, so you need to be vocal about your special needs.
Although air travel has improved greatly there are still issues that need to be addressed, most egregiously, the lack of an accessible bathroom aboard a plane.
However, landmark legislature such as the American Disabilities Act and the Air Carriers Access Act have greatly improved the equal protections afforded to disabled passengers.
Last, but not least, there are several organizations that are working to improve consumer rights and provide helpful resources:
Open Doors Organization
The Society for Accessible Travel & Hospitality
Join or Renew and Choose Your Gift
- Offer ends Dec. 17
- Discounts on travel and everyday savings
- Subscription to AARP The Magazine
- Free membership for your spouse or partner