Just the other day I crankily asked a friend why there aren’t strollers for adults (it had been a long day and I just wanted someone to push me around, darn it). Apparently some travelers are all about making that an actual thing, as airport employees say some passengers who don’t need wheelchairs ask for them anyway in order to get through the whole security process faster. Fakers! We call shenanigans.
Shenanigans and fakery aside, it’s probably totally legal. Federal law says anyone who asks for a wheelchair must be given one, and most airlines don’t make you prove that you need it, notes the New York Times. Riding in a wheelchair will let you roll right through the special line for customers with special needs and go through the Transportation Security Administration’s screening process ahead of all those schlubs waiting in line.
The NYT points out that these fakers aren’t even clever about hiding their non-need for assistance, even right in front of TSA workers.
Once cleared, the woman suddenly sprang up from her wheelchair, hoisted two huge carry-on bags from the magnetometer’s conveyor belt and plopped back in the wheelchair. She gave a nod to the person pushing her, and they rolled off to the gate.
The nerve! This practice of exploiting the wheelchair policy is so common that airport workers can actually predict that requests for chairs will go up when an airport is particularly crowded. There are even certain routes that are quite often flush with wheelchairs, say workers. And no one calls out passengers, under a sort of “don’t ask, don’t tell” unspoken rule.
“We’d say there was a miracle because they all needed a wheelchair getting on, but not getting off,” said [a flight attendant] and the national safety and security coordinator for the Association of Professional Flight Attendants, which represents American Airlines attendants. “Not only do we serve them beverages and ensure their safety — now we’re healing the sick.”
That phenomenon of being healed is more likely that if you really need a wheelchair to deplane, you’ll be the last one off. If you don’t really need it, just ditch the airport worker waiting to push your chair when you arrive and walk out like a miracle happened in mid-air.
The airlines are quick to point out that they’re not really okay with the practice of faking a need for assistance.
“We respect our passengers, and we trust their integrity when they seek wheelchair assistance,” said Jean Medina, the spokeswoman for Airlines for America, an industry trade organization, via e-mail. “And we hope that the service would not be abused for convenience.”
You give someone an inch and they will take a mile — all while rolling along comfortably, of course.
Rolling Past a Line, Often by Exploiting a Rule [New York Times]