The High Cost of Flying with a Power Wheelchair

A wheelchair user puts their life and livelihood at risk when they decide to fly. According to the latest Air Travel Consumer Report, in July 2021, airlines broke 28 wheelchairs a day on average.

Public Meeting with DOT and Airlines

On March 24, the U.S Department of Transportation held a public meeting on flying with wheelchairs. The meeting was broken up into two parts: the morning consisted of presentations and the afternoon was reserved for public comment. Many people hoped that this meeting meant airlines were going to share how they are working to improve air travel for wheelchair users. Instead, much of the responsibility was placed on wheelchair manufacturers and individuals who use wheelchairs.

Placing the Burden on Wheelchair Users

white united airlines plane
Photo by Pascal Renet on

Graham Keithley, who serves as associate general counsel for Airlines for America, suggested that wheelchair users buy better wheelchairs for air travel. He did not take into consideration the cost of wheelchairs, as well as the battle many people already face when getting their wheelchair covered by insurance. In addition, people who use wheelchairs select wheelchairs based on their needs, not the convenience of a billion-dollar industry. The work of accessibility cannot simply be put on the backs of disabled people. Accessibility needs to be the work of all people.

During the public comment portion of the meeting, participants shared stories of damaged equipment, unsafe transfers that resulted in bodily harm, poor customer service, and the lack of accessible laboratories on aircrafts.  

My Personal Experience of Flying with a Wheelchair

I shared my own personal experience with Delta requiring motorized wheelchair users to fly on Airbus aircrafts and not allowing them to fly on smaller aircrafts. Many cities only fly smaller aircrafts. I was informed that the DOT recently made provisions to the law that no longer requires airlines make wheelchairs fit into cargo spaces that do not match the wheelchair measurements. Policies such as this only further discriminates against disabled people and takes away their right to fly. Airlines can and need to do better.  

As stated by a 16-year old-participant in the meeting, “If Elon Musk can send rockets into space, why can’t wheelchair users board planes in their chairs?”

About Isabella Bullock: Isabella, or Izzie for short, is an employment specialist for the Center of Independent Living. She is an iced coffee enthusiast who enjoys getting lost in a good book. Click here to learn more about Isabella.

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