In June 2020, American Airlines quietly introduced a new policy restricting the acceptable weight of power wheelchairs on some of its aircraft. The policy effectively prevents the users of power wheelchairs from flying to 130 US airports, and one man is questioning the legality of the restriction.
Weight restrictions ground wheelchair users
An article on the Wheelchair Travel website by the site’s founder, John Morris, a self-confessed aviation geek, revealed that he was refused travel on an American Airlines flight last month from Gainesville, Florida (GNV), to Dallas, Texas (DFW). The reason given was that his power wheelchair was too heavy for the Canadair CRJ-700 aircraft operating the route.
John, a triple amputee, is a frequent flyer who has traveled to 46 countries with his wheelchair. He has flown on the CRJ-700 more than 50 times, including 21 flights with American. He had also flown this particular route with American before, most recently in February this year, and on the same type of aircraft, with no issues.
On this occasion, John’s check-in seemed to be going as usual. His boarding pass was issued, and his baggage tagged and put on the conveyor belt. Things started to go wrong when a supervisor asked for the weight of his wheelchair. John replied as usual that it was 450 pounds.
After checking, the supervisor informed John that the airline had introduced a new policy and that his wheelchair was over the acceptable weight for mobility aids on any of its regional aircraft. No weight limit had previously been imposed. John asked for and was shown a list of the new restrictions by aircraft type, which are:
- Embraer RJ-175 — 400 lbs.
- Embraer RJ-170 — 400 lbs.
- Embraer ERJ-145 — 400 lbs.
- Embraer ERJ-140 — 400 lbs.
- Canadair RJ 900 — 300 lbs.
- Canadair RJ 700 — 300 lbs.
In his article, John said,
“This policy effectively bans most complex rehab power wheelchairs produced by companies like Permobil, Quantum, and Quickie from regional jets on American Airlines.” He added, “According to my research, there are now 130 airports in the contiguous United States that many power wheelchair users will no longer be able to fly to on American Airlines.”
American Airlines damages too many wheelchairs
After filing a complaint with American Airlines, John received the following written response:
“The wheelchair could not be loaded on the aircraft due to the weight limitations, and the passenger could not leave the wheelchair behind, so he was denied boarding for the flight.”
Not satisfied with this answer, John contacted an Executive Liaison to explain why the change had been made with no notice. He was told that the airline was damaging too many wheelchairs during loading onto regional jets. By not transporting the wheelchair, it would be safe from damage, a response that John found absurd. He considers the policy a “gross violation of the Air carrier Access Act.”
Simple Flying reached out to American Airlines for comment but had not received a response at the time of publication.
Is the dismantling of wheelchairs the answer?
The airline says it will work with wheelchair users on a case-by-case basis but removing the batteries, weighing up to 50 pounds each, and dismantling parts of the wheelchair may be a solution.
However, not only would that be time-consuming, but it also increases the risk of damage to the wheelchair. That appears to be what American Airlines is trying to avoid!
What do you think of American Airlines’ new wheelchair policy?