People who use wheelchairs go through a similar process to any traveler checking their luggage, only their luggage is their main method of transportation, and often airlines return the chairs to their disabled travelers in broken, unusable condition, according to USA Today.
For disabled travelers, they have arrived at their destination without use of their legs, which is what the wheelchairs act as, allowing disabled people to get around.
Yomi Wrong suffered this fate when she traveled from California to Florida for a conference. She serves as the executive director of the Center for Independent Living in Berkeley, California. When the plane landed, she was left in her seat for an hour while the airline tried to locate her wheelchair. When they finally located it, the headrest and backrest were broken, and no one from the airport would help her try to fix her chair, due to what they stated were liability concerns.
"It goes to a lack of awareness and effective training," Wrong said. "Ultimately, this amounts to discrimination to one group of passengers, people with disabilities."
Most wheelchairs are set to meet the specific needs of the owner, and isn't interchangeable with other wheelchairs. In Wrong's case, she was delayed in arriving at her conference, and the airline didn't repair her damaged wheelchair until she had returned to California.
"This chair cost $26,000 - more than some people pay for a vehicle," Wrong said to USA Today. "When you hand your keys over to a valet, you don't expect that they're going to crash your car and not take responsibility for it and that's what happens to us."
The Department of Transportation (DOT) regulations cover the obligations of airlines in handling various types of wheelchairs. As of 2011, they are supposed to report more specific information on mishandled wheelchairs, though the rule is still under review, according to the DOT.
"It's an outrage that we have been fighting for decades," Marilyn Golden, a senior policy analyst for the Disability Rights, Education and Defense Fund in Berkeley, said. "We fought to get a law which was passed in 1986, the Air Carrier Access Act [which prohibits discrimination against disabled persons].
"We fought to get regulations issued that were strong," she continued. "And we have fought to get those regulations implemented and enforced."
Video on a law in Europe similar to the Air Carrier Access Act.
This article is copyrighted by Travelers Today, the travel news leader