The Airlines must stop biding their time on Wheelchair Airplane Access

All wheels up and Ms.Erwin
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Airlines have problems with wheelchairs- many lost and damaged

Consumer group working with FAA, airlines and manufacturers to have access for wheelchairs on board

Biden Administration to be aggressive in Handicapped Policy

MSNBC recently published an article about the air transportation system’s inaccessibility for wheelchair-bound people. It is a subject which the Journal discussed September 13, 2019. The safety issues are the same and the dialogue between this disabled consumer group and aviation has continued. While the parties may be satisfied with the progress so far, the goal of creating wheelchair access is likely to accelerate soon.

Ten years ago, All Wheels Up was founded by Michele Erwin after she experienced the frustrations of trying to fly with her wheelchair bound son. Much to her credit  (as explained in this video)

Michelle Erwin TED talk plano, tx

she did a lot of homework about the technical challenges of a safe place on board; she met with the FAA; got All Wheels up to sponsor the crash tests for possible solutions; and proactively worked with the airlines and manufacturers to develop a sensible way to accommodate this segment of theFDR Air Force 1 wheelchair elevator population. Her talk includes a story about Air Force One being redesigned to accommodate President Franklin Roosevelt.

Ms. Erwin explained that the damage (~11,000 lost or damaged) to the chairs and scooters (cost between $10,000 and $78,000). She also pointed to the large market of potential wheelchair passengers that cannot fly under the current seating and lavatory designs. This positive campaign looks likely to benefit from a Biden Administration initiatives to support all handicapped people.

The Biden-Harris campaign planks included “THE  BIDEN PLAN FOR FULL  PARTICIPATION  AND  EQUALITY  FOR  PEOPLE  WITH  DISABILITIES “  with quotes like:

“…break down the barriers to access for people with disabilities living …accessible and affordable transportation; and any needed long-term services and supports.”

“…Biden will appoint a director of disability policy within the Domestic Policy Council to ensure that these issues receive the attention they deserve at the highest levels of government and are integrated in broader policy discussions.”

“…Biden will expand access to accessible, integrated, and affordable housing and accessible transportation.

  • “…Ensure that air travel is accessible to people with disabilities. Biden will work to pass the Air Carrier Access Amendments Act to ensure that airline carriers do not discriminate against people with disabilities, improving the enforcement of the Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA), which prohibits discrimination by airlines with respect to travelers with disabilities… In addition, he will also ensure that people with disabilities can receive compensation when disability equipment, including wheelchairs, are lost or damaged by transportation carriers.”

A Time magazine headline touted the Biden handicapped initiative in reporting the new Disability Policy Director.

One Year Into the Pandemic, the White House Aims to Prioritize People With Disabilities

Kimberly Knackstedt was appointed to be the new Domestic Policy Council disability policy director, and impressive background should give her the clout to move projects that are languishing,  like All Wheels Up’s proposals.Kimberly-Knackstedt.



It might be wise for Airlines for America to increase its priorities to develop an industry proposed accessibility program for all of its members. The air carriers should also pressure the manufacturers to expedite their technical solutions for wheelchairs on board—especially now that fleets are being replenished. If some reasonable proposal is not forthcoming, Ms. Knackstedt may be dictating the parameters that meet President Biden’s promise.

airline wheelchair records









MSNBC story title

 Liz Plank, MSNBC


July 11, 2021, 4:07 PM EDT

By Liz Plank, MSNBC Opinion Columnist


When her wheelchair was severely damaged during her flight on Delta Airlines from Minneapolis to Newark, New Jersey, the model and influencer Bri Scalesse took to TikTok and recorded a video that quickly went viral. “Today my freedom and independence was taken away,” she said. “I don’t know how I’m going to live my life.”

Bri Scalesse


Pretty much no one looks forward to airline travel. But if you’re a wheelchair user, flying isn’t just an inconvenience; it can be devastating.wheel chair and scooter

Airlines were reported to have lost or broken 10,548 wheelchairs or scooters in 2019.

In 2018, 36,930 disability-related complaints were made to airlines. Airlines were reported to have lost or broken 10,548 wheelchairs or scooters in 2019, more than 1 out of every 100 they handle, yet little has been done to address the problem. A disability rights group called All Wheels Up is trying to change that by fighting for the Air Carrier Access Amendments Act, co-sponsored by Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis., and Rep. Jim Langevin, D-R.I. The act would require new airplanes to meet accessibility standards and existing aircraft to make modifications to accommodate disabled passengers.Sen. Baldwin and Rep. Langevin

According to a report last year by the Transportation Department, airlines damage about 29 disabled travelers’ wheelchairs every day.

No data are available from before 2019, because airlines weren’t mandated to report or track how many wheelchairs they lost or damaged before that. “My wheelchair is my freedom, a part of me,” Scalesse told MSNBC. “I was devastated.”2101:34

Because wheelchair damages or losses are so common, flying is just not a privilege that equally extends to the disability community. Eighty percent of the wheelchair community does not fly because of a risk to their physical selves or a loss of their wheelchair due to damage,” said ​​Michele Erwin, the founder and president of All Wheels Up. The organization lobbies for wheelchair users “to independently maneuver themselves onto the plane with dignity and safety” and to make “air travel fully accessible for millions of people who use Wheelchairs around the world.”

wheel damage

It’s about respecting human rights — but it’s also about recognizing the disability community as consumers.

Erwin says that along with the organization’s vice president, Alan Chaulet, she successfully got airlines to start reporting the number of mobility devices they compromise and to commit to making flying accessible to the disability community.

Erwin and Chaulet emphasize that it’s about respecting human rights — but it’s also about recognizing the disability community as consumers. “Flying is tough, but thanks to the Americans with Disabilities Act, most destinations are accessible and so are many more around the world,” Chaulet said. “People with disabilities have money to spend.”

Airlines aren’t just losing money on wheelchair repairs, replacements or flight reimbursements or by offering future travel vouchers for disgruntled disabled travelers; they’re also missing out on the business of potential customers who stay away from flying for fear of becoming another headline.missed revenue

And it’s also not just wheelchair losses and damage — it’s delays like the one that forced disability rights activist D’Arcee Charington to crawl out of a Delta flight in 2015. Bathrooms on planes aren’t accessible to people with most mobility issues. While trains and buses are forced to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act and create accessible wheelchair spots and restrooms, planes have been exempt from complying with the law because they are still following the Air Carrier Act, which was passed in 1986, before the Americans with Disabilities Act was signed into law.02101:38

While some airlines seem to be showing interest in All Wheels Up’s research, education and training programs, the pace of chance is slow. “They are taking those steps,” Erwin said of the airlines. “I just wish they were taking more aggressive steps. … Unfortunately, we are still a few years away from the implementation of a wheelchair spot on airplanes.”

That’s because the Federal Aviation Administration has failed to approve wheelchairs on flights. All Wheels Up claims it is the only organization funding and conducting crash-test studies on wheelchairs to help make that certification happen.birmingham research paper

Erwin also said most airlines don’t have evacuation strategies for disabled travelers in emergency landings. “There is no plan for you if you are a disabled traveler,” she said. “If you’re someone with reduced mobility, the only suggestion that has been given to the flight attendants is to literally carry them out of the airplane.”

Most airlines don’t have evacuation strategies for disabled travelers in emergency landings.

All Wheels Up provides disabled travelers with a tool it calls ADAPTS, which stands for A Disabled Passenger Transfer Sling, which can help carry a disabled passenger in an emergency. The sling was designed by an anonymous flight attendant. Erwin hopes airlines integrate them so the burden isn’t on the disability community to figure out how to survive emergency landings.


Since the program launched in January, 30 ADAPTS slings and special CARES harnesses (supplemental double shoulder straps to help passengers with disabilities safely get into their seats) have been handed out. Erwin says she is waiting on grants to keep going through a waiting list of disabled travelers who have applied for the devices.

To get the tools at no cost, disabled travelers must email with their names, email and home addresses, phone numbers and ages and explain why the tool would help them have a safer flight experience.













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1 Comment on "The Airlines must stop biding their time on Wheelchair Airplane Access"

  1. Sandy Murdock | July 22, 2021 at 11:18 am | Reply


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