For the 50+ Traveler

There’s good news for travelers who use a wheelchair: American Airlines has reversed a controversial policy that meant some people who use heavy wheelchairs could no longer fly on certain regional jets.

The recent policy banned wheelchairs weighing more than 300 pounds from some of its smaller jets. The problem, however, is that many power wheelchairs weigh more than 400 pounds due to their heavy batteries.

John Morris, a frequent flyer, advocate for travelers with disabilities, and founder of the website Wheelchair Travel, first reported the new policy after he was barred from taking a flight from Gainesville, Florida, in October. Morris, a triple amputee, says his wheelchair weighs around 400 pounds.

Morris wrote that he had flown 50 flights with a motorized wheelchair, including 21 times on American. He calculated that the weight restriction would prevent many wheelchair users from flying American planes to 130 regional airports nationwide, including airports such as Roswell, New Mexico, which are served solely by American.

“This means that large swaths of the U.S. could now be inaccessible to power wheelchair users on American Airlines, creating an air transportation ‘desert,’” Morris wrote.

Following a report by NPR as well as reports by numerous other news organizations, American apologized for the confusion and explained it implemented the weight limit as a safety precaution -- after Canadian authorities issued new guidance about cargo weight standards. However, the airline also announced plans to review the new rule.

Recently, NPR reported that, in a statement, American Airlines wrote, “After close consultation with our safety team and our aircraft manufacturer partners, we've eliminated the conservative weight limits that temporarily impacted our ability to carry some mobility devices and wheelchairs on our smaller, regional aircraft.”

The airline went on to say the new guidelines had been “approved and reviewed” by the Federal Aviation Administration. The statement continued: “We are committed to learning from this as we redouble our focus on improving the travel experience for our customers with disabilities.”

Morris told NPR that an airline representative left him a voicemail to announce the change.

“It’s great news that people are not going to have to be needlessly removing the batteries from their power wheelchairs [so their chairs meet the new weight limit],” Morris said.

It’s worth noting that Delta Air Lines’ policy is “to accommodate all of our customers, we transport all types of personal wheelchairs, including manual and battery-powered wheelchairs, carts, scooters, any accompanying prosthetic devices and other assistive devices used to manage a disability.”

United Airlines explains: “We'll accept your wheelchair or other assistive device in addition to your checked baggage allowance at no additional charge. We accept all types of wheelchairs and scooters, including folding, collapsible, non-folding, manual or powered. Excess, oversized and/or overweight baggage charges may apply for checking additional wheelchair(s) that are used for recreational purposes.”

To be on the safe side, if you or a companion are traveling with any medical device, a wheelchair, or another mobility device, it’s best to check in advance with the airline for guidance as well as to request pre-boarding, deplaning, and airport assistance.

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