Can wheelchairs be used on planes?
The accessibility of airports is constantly increasing, which helps to reduce the amount of challenges faced by passengers with disabilities or mobility aids. Travelling through any major American airport can be a daunting task, and current aviation regulations prohibit wheelchairs from any area beyond the plane’s door. This is a ruling which has sparked a lot of debate, with questions of passenger safety and dignity arising in discussions. Consequent campaigns, such as the work of Flying Disabled, are suggesting that the government must act to implement legislation, to rethink policies on travelling with a disability. Airports are often hectic, busy environments but some prior knowledge can be useful to navigate accessible facilities such as toilets.
As stated, wheelchairs are not currently allowed on board planes, unless they are stored in the hold. The advice from the U.S Department of Transportation outlines the importance of contacting your airline as soon as possible should you intend on travelling with a wheelchair or mobility aid; however the impacts of being without mobility assistance are often difficult to resolve. Typically, airline policies should include some guidance or help for the boarding process, to ensure that the traveler feels safe. Travel is a notoriously wealthy industry, and a recent SIPP survey found that there are approximately 54 million American people living with a disability, which underlines the need for an increase in inclusivity.
Airlines state that policies on weight restrictions and health and safety are the reasons behind wheelchairs being stored in the hold, however the sensitivity in dealing with the decision is not always present. A common problem faced by travellers is that their mobility aid may not fold up, and therefore cannot be stored, leaving the customer relatively helpless. There have also been numerous reports of chairs becoming damaged while in motion, which prompts questions of the treatment of accessible travel and the measures currently in place to support it.
Campaigners are increasing the pressure for airlines to invest in accessible travel innovations, such as designated wheelchair areas onboard planes. While wheelchairs can be used safely to navigate the airport terminal itself, the issues faced on board can be avoided with enough planning ahead of travel. Requesting an aisle seat is helpful for getting to and from the toilet facilities, allowing for mobility while flying.
Despite this, there are countless example of people left feeling stranded because of not being allowed to travel with their wheelchair. Multiple organisations are working to amplify this sentiment as wheelchairs are essentially the key to independence for those effected by disability, and policies of the travel industry could perhaps be doing more to appreciate this.