The law requires that airlines provide free wheelchair assistance to anyone who requests it; no documentation or evidence of injury required. And a growing number of unscrupulous travelers are taking advantage of this system, faking injuries and disabilities to get preferential treatment at security checkpoints and at the gate.
“We’ve handled maybe 100 wheelchairs a year. Now there are some times where we can handle 100 wheelchairs in a day,” the Westchester County Airport Manager tells CBS Miami about the recent uptick in wheelchair use.
Granted, some of this increase is due to a larger number of passengers who actually need wheelchairs to get around the airport. But a rep for the United Spinal Association estimates that around 15% of wheelchair requests at airports are now being made by people looking to speed things up.
“People who don’t really need special assistance or have a disability sometimes do say they’re a person with a disability to go through that special line or to the head of the line to get through security quicker,” says the rep.
The airlines and airports say there isn’t much they can do; not providing the wheelchair could result in huge fines. However, some do acknowledge the existence of so-called “miracle flights.”
“It’s a phrase that’s coined by a lot of the flight attendants,” says the Westchester airport manager. “They see a person come on with a wheelchair and when they get to the destination, for some reason, they actually are able to walk again.”
Of course, even that is not clear evidence of a bogus wheelchair request, as some people do not always require a wheelchair.
Those that are taking advantage of the system may not think they’re hurting anyone with their ruses, but one special needs advocate and mother of a disabled child tells CBS that such deception has a ripple effect.
“When people abuse the system it makes it harder for my child to access the accommodations that he needs,” she explains. “And it’s frustrating and it’s rude.”
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