AirTran Fined $500,000 For Lousy Wheelchair Service

The Transportation Department has served AirTran a $500,000 civil penalty for repeated failures to accommodate disabled travelers, reports Associated Press. The airline was also cited for not providing adequate responses to customers who complained, and for not properly filing complaints with the government. The biggest issue, however, was that it doesn’t always provide wheelchairs to disabled passengers in a timely manner. AirTran says it’s working on implementing a wheelchair tracking system at its hubs.

“Disability Issues Bring $500K Penalty for AirTran” [New York Times] (Thanks to Howard!)


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  1. Alvis says:

    Disabled people don’t have their own wheelchairs?

    • Loias supports harsher punishments against corporations says:

      A theory only: Disabled passengers cannot take the wheelchair in the cabin, and therefore check the “baggage” and receive a temporary wheelchair from the airline both before boarding and then after disembarking until checked baggage is reclaimed.

      • JulesNoctambule says:

        This is a pretty accurate description of how it usually works.

      • AustinTXProgrammer says:

        Except they do allow you to gate check… My wife is disabled and has a very narrow regular chair. It can easily fit through the isle in just about every first class section, and we usually get the bulkhead right after. We are among the first on the plane and always the last off, and the chair is waiting in the Jetway by that point.

        Normally they would use an isle chair (very narrow, must be pushed by someone else) but my wife hates it. She would rather me just carry her when we are together. If you ask nicely and the wheelchair fits the crew will often stow it in the closet to avoid it going below. The most important thing is to make sure they don’t take it apart and you collect any loose parts.

        • AustinTXProgrammer says:

          Back before my wife and I met she was departing from a regional airport without jetways. While she was waiting for a portable lift to come lift her to the plane she overheard one of the workers saying “It’s just a few steps, is she that lazy?” She is a paraplegic, and not overweight.

    • pop top says:

      You can be disabled and not need a wheelchair.

      • pop top says:

        Dammit. That accidentally got submitted before I was finished. What I was going to say was: You can be disabled and not need a wheelchair. Some people can walk short distances just fine, but not be able to traverse an entire airport, or go from the gate to their car. Or Loias also has a good point.

    • Heresy Of Truth says:

      My buddy is in a wheelchair. Every time he flies, they take his, which is his baby, and give him a special airplane wheelchair that has a thinner profile to fit down the airplane walkway. He says it’s the most nerve wracking experience ever because you are dependent on them to do the switch, and it’s up to their schedule. Not to mention, you very own wheelchair goes into the hold, where things disappear and get stolen all the time.

    • runswithscissors says:

      Hells yeah! Serves them cripples right! Or they should just stay at home, right! High five!

      / annoyed sarcasm

  2. SoFlaSnowMan says:

    I was always under the impression that wheelchairs, like Sky-Caps, were provided by the airport, not necessarily the airlines.

    • Pax says:

      And when you’r sitting on a plane, which has just landed and is now taxiing across the tarmac towards it’s assigned Gate … who, exactly, should be telling the airport “have a wheelchair ready at Gate #___” …? :) That’s right: the airline. After all, if you can’t get off the plane without a wheelchair, it’d be pretty bloody hard to get from the airplane to the airport’s nearest information or service kiosk, now owuldn’t it?

      • pot_roast says:

        So what happens when the airline does it but the lazy skycap is too busy texting to get to the gate in a timely manner? Airlines tell the wheelchair folks where to be, but there are a lot of skycaps that cannot manage that astonishingly simple task. My airline job proved this to me time and time again.
        I actually had an argument with a lazy coworker. The airline is responsible for the wheelchair passenger until they are at the curb.

    • sirwired says:

      They are usually provided by a service contracted by the airport at a non-hub, but no matter where it is, it is the airline’s ultimate responsibility. If AirTran wants to recover the fine from the airport or contractor, they can, but AirTran is the entity that has to answer to the FAA.

  3. smo0 says:

    Okay, this is just perspective from my time spent in air ports… I see a lot of those “temporary” wheel chairs used for older people… but in recent times, I see them for the “overweight.” I don’t know to their cause, I just know what I see… so the point is…. I don’t know who’s complaining…. I just know that if it’s not provided in a “timely” manner it’s because I see them utilized more by specific groups….. but @Alvis… I think people who legitimately have their own wheel chair 100% of the time aren’t the ones complaining… it’s the “fatty go carts” I think that are not allowed on planes? You know… the motorized rascals that are in the left lane of traffic these days… yeah those…. I can tell you, the people who are “advertised” as using them on the commercials, are NOT the ones using them.

    • Angus99 says:

      Holy cow smoO, I think you just pulled the pin on a grenade and pitched it onto the dance floor!

      • Angus99 says:

        Sorry, meant smo0 not smoO! :)

        • smo0 says:

          Holy cow indeed. But to add to that… lots of people use their own motorized carts… so the demand for the traditional wheel chair has gone up since you can’t just ride those things on the plane.

          Don’t fine these people, just tell them they need to purchase more wheelchairs… (personally, I don’t fault them.)

          • Anathema777 says:

            Disabled people who own standard, old-fashioned wheelchairs also need them in airports. A lot of airlines have you check the wheelchair, so you’d need a loaner for layovers or to get you to baggage claim.

            • smo0 says:

              I think that’s the norms they are used to seeing, as I pointed out in my original comment, they are being overshadowed by the “others” who use them…

              • Anathema777 says:

                I couldn’t really understand your original comment. But I got this part: “I think people who legitimately have their own wheel chair 100% of the time aren’t the ones complaining”

                And I’m telling you that they are the ones complaining. Are heavier people also complaining? Maybe. But disabled people that own their own wheelchairs are also having problems because of AirTran’s crappy wheelchair service.

                • smo0 says:

                  I guess they just failed to keep up with the times, in another comment, they should have just been told to buy more wheelchairs and higher more people to face a fine.

    • danmac says:

      While your assertion that “it’s the fatties” who are the problem may be spurious, it does remind me of my last trip to Disneyland (wife’s family likes to go there). I vividly remember dodging, ducking, dipping, diving, and dodging out of the paths of numerous strollers and many, many morbidly obese individuals driving around on electric scooters. And I’m not the only one who’s noticed this phenomenon:

      Personally, I’m 6’4″ and weigh 255 lbs, so I’m not some skinny minny taking pot shots at heavier people here, just recalling something that irked me.

      • Marshmelly says:

        Patches O’Houlihan would be proud…

      • pecan 3.14159265 says:

        It can be a cyclical problem – some people have conditions that make it difficult or painful to walk, and if they are confined to a wheelchair (but not paralyzed – they can physically walk, it’s just painful or very difficult) weight gain can become a much more serious problem.

        Of course, I suppose it’s possible that there are those who have gained weight through overeating, develop painful joint problems, and because walking is painful, they don’t walk and continue gaining weight because now they’re totally inactive.

        • danmac says:

          I definitely agree that not everyone who is overweight and disabled is disabled because they are overweight (there may be other variables). That said…

          Going to Disneyland was a unique experience because grew up up in The Bay Area, a relatively fit part of the country, where I never saw scooter drivers congregate en masse. At Disneyland, where people from less healthy states are a comparatively large subset of the population, suddenly everyone has a scooter, and just looking at their fashion/sports logos/accents/etc, it’s clear who are driving the scooters an inordinate amount (hint: it’s not people from Portland, Oregon).

          On the flip side, it’s completely possible that this is an example of confirmation bias, and seeing these people at Disneyland only confirmed my preconceptions about all the unhealthy individuals living in the midwest.

          • BridgetPentheus says:

            I have noticed in the past few years the amount of obese people renting scooters at Disney is so large it’s scary. What’s worse is it’s obvious it’s one of the first few times they’ve driven one of them because they are out of control and it leads to massive waiting times staying on resort property and taking buses to the park because they can’t drive them up the ramp and secure them. The point of Disney and these other theme parks is yes they have a majority of of junk food (with a few healthy snacks thrown in if you ask) but you are walking quite a few miles (or almost running in my families case) all over the park to get to everything on time. If you have a problem walking there are those old fashioned things called wheel chairs that my grandfather would use on occasion that they could push themselves or someone else could push them.

        • Riroon13 says:

          My wife is an obese woman with health problems, and I’ve got more respect for her than ever, simply because she WALKS and doesn’t cop out with those damn electric scooters. It’s a labor for her to go shopping, but when she does, she doesn’t see the need to go all Hoverround down the aisles. She puts on her walking shoes and goes about her way.

          Whenever I go into Wal-Mart nowadays, I feel like I’m a pedestrian dropped into some white-trash Mario Kart race, with all the electric scooters I have to dodge. I keep looking around for someone tossing a green turtle shell or six pack of Pabst at me.

          Oh, Wall-E, your vision of the future is now.

          • Pax says:

            My girlfriend and I are both quite heavy – we’re both about 320#.

            For a while, she had to use those electric scooters that stores sometimes provide … because she had plantar fasciitis; it was literally agony for her to put her foot down. She still has bad days (and will for life), and owns a cane now for those that are bad, but not immobilisingly so. Too look at her, she’s not immobilisingly disabled, aside from her weight – but she had a real, medical need for those scooters. And she’d’ve needed them, even if she were 150# lighter.

            And at Disney, I spent one day in a wheelchair; I had developed a very awful blister on one foot, which burst – and was frighteningly deep, to the point I was concerned that I might have to go to a hospital. Since my two companions (girlfriend included) didn’t want me to miss out on our planned day in EPCOT, I acceded to their suggestion of a wheelchair. Otherwise, I truly would have been stuck in my room all day. And as with my girlfriend, too look at me, there’s no sign I’m disabled to the point of needing a wheelchair. But that day, it was the only real option that salvaged that day of our (not inexpensive) vacation. And also like my lady love, I’d’ve needed it, even if I were 150# lighter.

            So while some of the people you see might not be permanently disabled … regardless of weight, there’s a better than even chance that they are at least temporarily disabled to the point where a wheelchair is needful.

            TL;DR version: Assumptions are bad, ‘mmmkay?

            • danmac says:

              So I guess that your point is that all those obese people driving scooters around Disneyland and Walmart are doing so because they suffer from disabilities that are closely correlated with their obesity, correct?

              Your two examples are your girlfriend’s plantar fasciitis and your foot blisters. Not incidentally, medical evidence has shown that obesity is one of the leading causes of foot pain.


              Furthermore, conditions like plantar fasciitis are more painful for people who are obese:


              In your story, you mention several times that you and your girlfriend would suffer from those disabilities (plantar fasciitis and a foot blister), even if you were 150 lbs lighter. That is your assumption, but it’s not necessarily true; your obesity has a high comorbidity rate with a number of other conditions, two of which are plantar fasciitis and foot pain, meaning that these problems occur at a much higher rate among obese individuals than the general population:


              In other words, it’s entirely possible that you and your girlfriend happened to suffer debilitating ailments that have nothing to do with your obesity, but it’s more likely that that were a direct result thereof. Sorry, but the medical evidence is a bit overwhelming.

              • Pax says:

                “So I guess that your point is that all those obese people driving scooters around Disneyland and Walmart are doing so because they suffer from disabilities that are closely correlated with their obesity, correct?”

                No. My point was summed up in the last line: Don’t assume anything.

                I would add to that: “Just because someone is fat, and using a scooter or wheelchair, it does not neccessarily mean they are using it due to laziness.”

                “In your story, you mention several times that you and your girlfriend would suffer from those disabilities (plantar fasciitis and a foot blister), even if you were 150 lbs lighter. That is your assumption, […]”

                It’s a logical and reasonable conclusion.

                For example, even when I was a skinny teenager, I still occasionally got blisters. Especially aftr spending three days walking miles worth of distance every day. My weight had nothing to do with my need for a chair that day.

                As for my lady? Plantar fasciitis runs in the family. Her mother – a tiny, skinny little thing who I doubt weights over 130# soaking wet – has had the same condition, to the point of requiring surgery, even.

                “Sorry, but the medical evidence is a bit overwhelming.”

                Clearly, you are neither legally nor medically qualified to make that disagnosis.

    • pop top says:

      I… think… that… it’s… a… combination… of… both… I’m… sure… that… people… who… think… they… need… wheelchairs… probably… complain… louder… than… those… who… actually… need… them… because… the… latter… group… is… probably… used… to… that… kind… of… treatment… anyway…

    • speedwell (propagandist and secular snarkist) says:

      I had surgery to remove my right kidney a few years ago. The incision was immense. It took me about six months to recover to the point where I was comfortable walking around much. About three months after the surgery, I had to do a lot of business traveling. I needed a wheelchair. I could not go up steps yet or walk quickly. I also got spat on by a couple of lowlife bitches because I was a heavy, not obviously crippled, woman being pushed around in an airport wheelchair.

      • smo0 says:

        Overweight or obese? Not that it matters. Unfortunately due to those who use them, they carry a nice social stigma for those who legitimately need it.
        I had surgery last December… though I didn’t need a wheel chair, I couldn’t carry anything – but it got me thinking; “hey doc, while you’re in there, can you remove some of this fat?” Why can’t they?!

  4. ConsumerPop says:

    That’s sad, I’ve flown exclusively on AirTran for the past 8 years and I’ve never had an issue with them. (Obviously I do not require a wheelchair)

  5. marks2l says:

    I do sometimes require a wheelchair to get from gate to gate, and on my first (and last) flight with Airtran was basically abandoned at an empty gate. Eventually flagged down a passing Airtran employee who called for assistance, although she let me know I was upsetting her routine.

  6. Rajabear says:

    Oddly enough I was just on an Airtran flight this weekend. On both legs of my flight there was a “disabled” person that insisted on the use of their wheelchair. He was with two other women. I say “disabled” because they boarded the plane in Milwaukee all clearly drunk. One woman had a neck brace on, over her hair. The man that was using the wheelchair was able to walk down the aisle, dispite the other lady taking off with the crutches and his pants falling off part way to his seat. Upon arrival at their final destination, which happened to be mine as well, the neck brace lady seemed to have been magically cured.
    If wheelchairs are being tied up by passengers too drunk to walk straight (who also seem to be trying to pull an insurance scam) or too fat and lazy to walk, I can see how the airline could get stuck in a position of not having one available for someone who really does need it.

    • humphrmi says:

      That’s usually not the problem at all.

      There are companies that specifically provide wheelchair services to airlines in every airport. I know this, because I used to work for one. These companies have way more wheelchairs than would ever need to be used at one time. It’s very simple, a disabled passenger identifies his/her need at check-in, airline makes a call to service company, service company arrives with wheelchair. To the airline, aside from the above procedure, it’s all a financial transaction – contracting with and paying the service provider.

      Some airlines obviously don’t want to have to pay.

  7. Commenter24 says:

    While it is the airline’s ultimate responsibility, the problems are usually caused by the utter fuck-up contract companies that they (or the airport’s, really) hire to provide the chairs. These contractor’s apparently hire anyone with a pulse and are constantly fucking up and getting sued (or getting the airport/airline/city/state sued) because they drop people, ram them into things, etc. It’s a complete and utter joke, but that’s what you get when you hire the lowest bidder.

  8. Mike AKA MonolithTMA says:

    Interesting. My fiance has vision, directional and spacial difficulties which make it difficult to navigate unfamiliar places like airports. We live in Ohio, but she’s from Boston. Over the years she’s flown back and forth quite a few times and Airtran has been very accommodating each time. She doesn’t need a weelchair, but she does need help to her seat and then exiting the plane. I and someone on the other end get a gate pass so we can help her get to the gate.

  9. TheMonkeyKing says:

    Sorry to hear this. The Airtran terminal at RDU has always been professional and curteous. I use them most of the time.

  10. Gulliver says:

    It seems to me I have seen a LOT more people using the extra time to board, so they can get on the plane first, but then they want to get off first as well. If a flight has 20 people who are in need of a wheel chair sometimes it is impossible to get them for everybody who needs them. Having patience is needed. The wheelchair may be needed, but they can not push 8 chairs at once. The last flight I took to Florida had a need for 10 chairs.

    • webweazel says:

      “The last flight I took to Florida had a need for 10 chairs.”

      Heh. There’s a joke there, but I just can’t…..oh.