We’ve all heard of the CARES Act, but there’s a raft of Acts that help govern the way airlines operate in the United States. One of those is the Air Carrier Access Act. That Act is a piece of federal legislation that bans commercial airlines from discriminating against passengers with disabilities.
Generally, the provisions of the Air Carrier Access Act help make life easier for disabled passengers. Occasionally, things can go awry.
Wheelchair too heavy to fly in the cabin
Earlier this week, Simple Flying reported on the case of Mr John Morris, a disabled traveler who runs the Wheelchair Travel website. He says he was prevented from boarding an American Airlines Canadair CRJ-700 jet flying from Gainesville to Dallas in October. After checking in, Mr Morris was bumped from his flight as his wheelchair was classed as too heavy to go into the cabin. The wheelchair weighs more than 400 pounds.
A local American Airlines supervisor told Mr Morris there was a new policy effective mid-June. His wheelchair was over the acceptable weight for mobility aids on any of their regional aircraft.
“We do everything we can to safely accommodate mobility devices across our operation. Each aircraft type has specific cargo floor weight and door dimension restrictions that are established by the aircraft manufacturer.
The airline says its new restrictions are “accounted for” in FAA approved manuals. Yet on the face it, the restrictions seem to conflict with the provisions of the Air Carrier Access Act. Mr Morris seems to think so.
American’s new wheelchair policy could leave disabled travelers stranded
In an article published on Wheelchair Travel, Mr Morris says the American’s new policy means travelers using complex rehab power wheelchairs will no longer have access to American Airlines flights out of 130 airports across the United States. He provides a state by state airport breakdown to support this.
“I contend that AA committed a gross violation of the Air Carrier Access Act.
“This is what discrimination looks like. Remember this story the next time American Airlines claims that it is committed to diversity, equity, and inclusion.”
Mr Morris is no stereotypical AA basher. He says he’s an Executive Platinum AAdvantage member, flying more than 100,000 miles on the airline annually. But he’s given American Airlines an almighty whack here.
A complex problem for airlines and sometimes open to abuse
Still, you might feel a twinge of sympathy for American Airlines. A big 400 pound plus wheelchair might not pose a problem on the airline’s biggest aircraft, but there’s not much room to move on smaller jets. As the airline says, there are weight issues to consider.
By extension, does a traveler have the right to insist their wheelchair is carried on a small 10 seater commuter turboprop if that turboprop is operating as a “commercial airline”?
As with most pieces of legislation, the Air Carrier Access Act throws up some anomalies. Perhaps the best known is the issues airlines have with passengers traveling with care animals. Abuses of the Air Carrier Access Act saw travelers try to fly with comfort turkeys, peacocks, snakes, gliders, and squirrels.
In 2018, American Airlines made a move, banning some animals from traveling as care or support animals. Guide dogs weren’t on the radar. Rather, American Airlines began by targeting frogs, ferrets, hedgehogs, and goats getting passed off as in-cabin support or therapy animals.
The US Department of Transportation is getting onboard, looking at restricting the range of animals that can fly in the cabin as support or therapy animals.
But in the meantime, passengers like Mr Morris are probably more concerned about the ability of their wheelchairs to travel.
Simple Flying has approached American Airlines and John Morris for comment.