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Air Travel Law Benefits Power Wheelchair Users

By Stephanie Woodward
Friday, February 1st, 2019

As a power wheelchair user, I am afraid to fly with my chair because it is frequently broken by the airlines. I cannot guarantee that my chair will be in working order upon my arrival in a new city, and that means I may not be able to do my job – after all, I cannot go to a work meeting in Washington, D.C. if my wheelchair will not move! This means I am often left with the choice of driving long hours to get to my destination or taking a flight and hoping that my Q6 Edge® 2.0 with iLevel® is in one piece when I arrive. Neither of these options are great, which is why I am really excited about the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Reauthorization of 2018 which was signed into law in October of 2018.

While this law covers many different issues, the part that interests me most is the section dedicated to air travelers with disabilities. One of the most exciting aspects of the FAA Reauthorization is the requirement that a study be conducted within two years to determine the feasibility of having in-cabin wheelchair restraint systems, and if it is feasible, how passengers with disabilities can use them. Electric wheelchair users have spent years advocating for a law that would allow people to drive onto planes in their wheelchairs and remain in their motorized wheelchairs during the flight. Not only would this be safer and easier for passengers who have difficulty transferring out of their wheelchairs to get on the aisle chair and then get on the plane, but it is also safer for our power wheelchairs. Our chairs are usually damaged in the process of being put in or taken out of the cargo area, but if our chairs stay with us on the plane, this significantly reduces the risk of our chairs being damaged.

Another great aspect of the FAA Reauthorization is that it requires the creation of a Bill of Rights for airline passengers with disabilities, which will include: the right to be treated with dignity and respect; the right to receive timely assistance, if requested, from properly trained personnel; the right to receive seating accommodations to accommodate a disability; and the right to speak with a complaint resolution officer or to file a complaint with a covered air carrier or the Department of Transportation. Every air carrier will be required to have the Airline Passengers with Disabilities Bill of Rights on their website and in pre-flight notifications.

Lastly, the FAA Reauthorization has created penalties for harming disabled passengers or their mobility devices. This is huge for electric wheelchair users! Many people who use motorized wheelchairs are afraid to fly because our chairs are often broken by the airlines, leaving us stranded. Assessing penalties against airlines for harming our power wheelchairs will definitely motivate the airlines to improve their practices to stop harming our wheelchairs.

While these changes will take time, I am really excited for what the future holds for air travelers with power wheelchairs!


About Stephanie: Stephanie Woodward is a consumer advocate for Quantum Rehab® and works as a disability rights activist. She is the director for the Center for Disability Rights, an organization that hosts many events for the disability community. She has received many awards for helping communities become more accessible, as well as for her actions in fighting for the rights of disabled individuals as it relates to Medicaid and other support services. Click here to learn more about Stephanie. 

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