A New Rule Means Some People With Wheelchairs Can't Fly On American Airlines

Source: NPR.org

John Morris calls himself an "aviation geek." He's a frequent flyer who, in his power wheelchair, has traveled to 46 countries. His goal is to visit every country.

"I love air travel," he says. From takeoff and to the way the engines cut off right before touchdown, "that joy that I get from that is just so incredible."

After a car crash in 2012 that resulted in a triple amputation, Morris kept flying. He also started a website called Wheelchair Travel and hosts a travel podcast.

Now a new policy from one airline could limit the ability of some people such as Morris to fly. American Airlines, the largest airline in the United States, put in place a limit on the weight of a wheelchair, and now many power wheelchairs, such as the one Morris uses, are deemed too heavy to fly on smaller regional jets.

Morris was headed to the American West on Oct. 21 to write stories for his website. It was to be his first trip since March. But at his airport in Gainesville, Florida, he was turned away. His wheelchair, with its motor and batteries, weighs more than 400 pounds. The new weight limit — there hadn't been one before — was 300 pounds for the jet he was booked to fly. At the airport, Morris checked with other airlines and was told they had not added weight limits for wheelchairs.

Morris filed a complaint with American Airlines and quickly got back a written response: "The wheelchair could not be loaded on the aircraft due to the weight limitations and the passenger could not leave the wheelchair behind, so he was denied boarding for the flight."

Morris says he could not find the policy on American's website but a representative he spoke to on the phone said the new weight limit began in June. "She told me that the airline had implemented this new policy because they were damaging a large number of power wheelchairs loading them onto regional aircraft," according to Morris. "And that in order to protect my wheelchair, they were no longer willing to accept it on board."

In 2018, the federal government started requiring an airline to report every time it damaged or lost a wheelchair. It turned out that was happening about 25 to 30 times a day — at least, before air travel fell during the coronavirus.

American Airlines has often had one of the worst rankings on those lists of airlines that damage or lose wheelchairs. In the most recent report from the Department of Transportation, for July, American mishandled 1.95% of the wheelchairs and scooters it carried, ranking 16th of 17 airlines and only ahead of Spirit Airlines, which mishandled 3.57%.

Stacy Day, a spokesperson for American Airlines, told NPR that the new rule, which bars wheelchairs that weigh more than 300 pounds from the smaller regional jets, was a safety issue — to meet the cargo requirements of the aircraft. "We do everything we can to safely accommodate mobility devices across our operation," the spokesperson wrote. "Each aircraft type has specific cargo floor weight and door dimension restrictions that are established by the aircraft manufacturer."

To Morris, that didn't make sense.

"My wheelchair has been carried on this exact flight on this same aircraft at the same airline so many times. Nothing has changed," he says. "Not on the wheelchair's part. The aircraft hasn't changed. The only thing that has changed is that the airline has made a decision to exclude me."

Read the rest of the article by visiting https://www.npr.org/2020/11/02/929489746/a-new-rule-means-some-people-with-wheelchairs-cant-fly-on-american-airlines

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