After another week of flights, I am done being polite with wheelchair assistance abusers in airports. I’m not talking about people who need wheelchairs – just the intentional few abusing a system enabled to help travellers that need it.
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Who I Am Not Talking About?
To be very clear, I am not talking about people who have genuine mobility problems. I am also not talking about those who may not be able to make their connections due to large airports. I am not speaking of those who simply are not capable of walking long distances.
I am not talking about anyone with a genuine need, prescribed or not, for wheelchair assistance in an airport.
The terrible humans referenced in the title of this post are those who are abusing the wheelchair assistance program for the dumbest possible reason, to get on the airplane sooner. I will give an actual example I witnessed this week and one from the past but they are not unique, I see it almost every single week, most frequent flyers would affirm witnessing the same.
Walking through Dallas/Fort Worth Terminal E this week I saw a man in his 50s, walking around the airport, stopping some of the same places I had, both of us clearly killing an awkward 15 minutes to avoid sitting in a crowded gate. Boarding is about to begin, and I start to mill towards the front waiting for United 1Ks to be called after “Disabilities or those needing a little extra time down the jet bridge” then Global Services, Active Duty Military and Families with children under the age of two – in that order.
The man who was traipsing aimlessly through DFW as I was, approached the desk before they began and asked where his wheelchair assistance was. “It should be on every flight” and then he pointed to his boarding pass. As another agent begins going through the list, the man was saved just in the nick of time by an airport employee with a wheelchair ready to wheel him down the jet bridge before he lost his slot in the boarding order.
He sat in the chair at the counter, was wheeled about 15 feet to the jet bridge entrance then perhaps 100 feet down the bridge to the aircraft door whereby he grabbed his bag and walked onto the plane to his seat.
Years ago, my wife and I took a trip to Rome with her cousin. A brash couple were trying to give us youngsters some advice to help us with our big flight home and encouraged us to request wheelchair assistance because we would get to board early. They then walked over the counter awaiting their chariot to guide them down that perilous journey.
There’s no mobility problem this guy was trying to solve. If he had a mobility issue he would have waited at his last gate until the chair arrived. This is the precise reason why there are always more wheelchairs boarding than there are disembarking. Most walk right past their assistants waiting at their destination because they never needed them in the first place.
There’s an argument that “not all disabilities are visible” and that’s absolutely true. But there is no disability for which I am aware that allows a passenger to walk uninhibited unless it’s down the jet bridge. These terrible human beings abuse a system with honorable intentions. If the man I referenced previously didn’t require a wheelchair to get through the much more arduous task of connecting, especially at an airport like DFW, then he certainly didn’t need one for boarding.
It’s Victimless But Terrible
Am I harmed by their actions? No, I’m just done ignoring their rude behavior. They are knowingly, willingly and intentionally taking advantage of a system built to help people with genuine need. I have a family member who has limited mobility. She doesn’t need a wheelchair to walk but would be utterly exhausted crisscrossing a major airport just as she would a mall. She requests wheelchair assistance but needs it. She uses it from checkin to the airplane door and again at disembarkation.
Do I care if a few more people board before me? Absolutely not. But United doesn’t even make you declare or prove that you have a need for a wheelchair to board early. To the contrary, their language “those who need a little extra time” is some of the most generous in the industry and I have never, ever, seen anyone questioned.
So why the rouse? Don’t these horrible humans feel utterly ridiculous getting in a wheelchair at the gate and then off again 100 feet later? They could simply board at that time and no one would care, nor question them.
This discussion isn’t entirely different from the willful abusers of the emotional support animal rules and my feelings remain the same. But with emotional support animals, at least those problems may be invisible to passersby. This one is not. When a passenger abuses a goodwill mobility system so they can get on a few minutes earlier (when they could board early without abusing the system), is there really another word for them than terrible?
What do you think? Have you seen the same abusers of the wheelchair assistance program? Have you/would you say something?
I’m with ya. At OAK I saw a lady waiting in her wheelchair at the gate (along with 6 other wheelchair users) get up and walk over to burger king get some food and come back and sit back down. Ridiculous
Ahhh, reminds me of the miracle healing properties of damn near every WN flight to MCO or FLL….
You mean Indian people.
For them its more like a cultural bullshit. They look to be in higher caste, if they are rolled by someone else. Also in some of their regions they think that life’s lenght is maximalized by breathing count. The slover you breathe, the longer you live. So its just better to sit all day than walking.
If your ‘higher caste = rolled by someone else’ hypothesis is true, we should see young South Asians being wheeled to the plane as well, but we don’t.
I’ve seen it , and it’s becoming more common. And it seems possible to book the service on departure only…because I’ve seen some passengers wheel-chaired on, only to become sprightly on arrival, making an unassisted dash for immigration/ baggage claim. It’s becoming so obvious that they’ll make it more onerous for those who really need it.
Very true. Often it shows itself when the plane lands and the flight attendant announces that those who have reserved wheelchair assistance should remain seated until they arrive. Amazing how many of them then walk off the plane perfectly fine and with miraculous agility to avoid waiting.
One comment about passengers who can walk off the plane: I travel with my elderly mother. She can walk short distances on her own, but she cannot stand for long periods of time, like at the security checkpoint; departure gates are often an unknown distance away; and of course no one wants to miss their plane, and she can no longer run to the gate.
On arrival, however, passengers have been sitting a while and need to stretch their legs; there are no lines to stand in (on domestic flights), and there’s no hurry to get to baggage claim. It’s also possible to sit down for a rest without the pressure of missing a flight. So that’s why some people don’t need a wheelchair on arrival.
However, I do agree with your general point about scammers whether it’s wheelchairs or animals. Whatever happened to integrity? And manners?
It’s mostly Indian people. Every time I’ve flown an ME3 airline, all the F passengers are basically waiting for 50-80 wheelchairs to board first. Amazingly, when I’m flying to Asia or Europe directly from the US, there are never more than 4-5 wheelchairs even though the passengers are the same age.
Are you and Bob the same person?
Ah, the “miracle flight” people. They experience a miracle during the flight and can suddenly walk normally again. It’s no different than the people who get a handicap tag when their only handicap is mental.
Known people like that, a disgrace to humanity. Shameless and abusing the system…
Kyle – some disabilities are not visible. Maybe take that into consideration. My mom has MS and can often function looking just like a completely capable person, but nobody sees that every step she makes is in the midst of severe pain.
My best friend’s mom growing up had MS, I know what this looks like and that would fall well into the first paragraph of the post. That’s a legitimate issue.
People are abusing it, others have corroborated the same in the comments.
I’m with you. On Southwest, I wonder what would happen if all the wheelchairs were seated at the back of the plane instead of the front since they need to wait for chairs to disembark. And you didn’t even get in to the cases with 4-5 people assisting the wheelchair passenger.
Abuses like this just make it harder for people with real need.
Meh. Maybe substantively correct on some level but more virtuous to mind one’s own business and not worry what other people are doing when it doesn’t really affect you.
Clearly it is being abused. But i’m afraid the winnowing out of the real from the fake may create more anguish than benefit.
I think this will eventual create problems or additional work for people who have legitimate need. Eventually, enough people will pull this bullshit that airlines will begin to create and enforce tighter controls for the service, and people who have a legitimate need will be burdened with proving it. Same thing has happened with service animals. When people decide to discard ethical behavior to take advantage of goodwill, they eventually ruin it for the people for whom the goodwill was intended. People who do this and people who pretend they have a disability so that they can use ADA parking have earned whatever unfortunate physical ailments afflict them in the future.
But it isn’t illegal and doesn’t affect you in any way…so…
I recently saw a hilarious example of this behavior when I passed a gate for another flight heading to China and—no kidding—more than half of the plane were parties with a person in a wheelchair. Probably 40-50 wheelchairs in all. And of course all of the family members get to board with the person in a wheel chair. So up to 75% of the passengers were pre-board.
Flight attendants we know all say that at the end of such flights, almost nobody needs a wheelchair to get off because that would involve waiting until all of the other passengers have deboarded.
One way to reduce the abuse is to limit each such pre-board eligible passenger to just one or two additional helpers. It doesn’t take a family of 11 people to get grandma on board.
Most wheelchair abusers use the service to ensure that they don’t get lost in the airport. And given how badly this country treats tourists I don’t blame them for abusing the system. Just like folks who abuse the Emotional support animal loophole or the scum at Staples who clean out racks during GC promo sales with the full connivance of the staff (in spite of the one per person rule posted). If banks like Wells Fargo don’t raise our ire by scheming to maximize fines by preferential treatment of withdrawals then why we should be outraged by this (essentially) victimless crime?
Indian-Americans have the highest incomes among all demographics and therefore I am not sure if casteist feelings have anything to do with Indians abusing this. I have seen plenty of Chinese and Koreans doing this as well.
“Most wheelchair abusers use the service to ensure that they don’t get lost in the airport.“
I don’t think you have any proof to back up this assertion. It certainly doesn’t pass any sort of logic test since the obvious advantage of this privilege abuse is getting on the plane early.
Again, not sure why Indian people are being singled out? Are you the same person who also posted and Bob and Hal?
A solution just struck me: you wristband people who require wheelchairs, for safety and convenience. When the flight lands, these people deplane last. If someone removes the wristband before disembarking, you penalize them. If this was strictly enforced, the problem would soon vanish.
I totally agree with everything you’ve said, except the part about it being “victimless”. I am an airline employee who has suffered more than one injury over the years getting passengers with mobility needs on and off of planes. We are run ragged getting to these flights on time to often be verbally abused if we weren’t ready and waiting when and where they expected us, and physically pushed to our limits. The other victims are those who actually need our services and are left standing, waiting excessive lengths of time, or worse, struggling to make it on their own because they can see how busy we are, sometimes resulting in falls and injuries to themselves!
Sadly the usual suspects in this are my countrymen. They use it as a workaround to get special treatment. And yet they will run off the aircraft at disembarkation.
I am someone who can’t walk long distances due to three herniated disks, has had two spinal surgeries and reading this article makes me sick to my stomach, I was in the prime of my life at 21 when I had a car accident that ruined my spine (not at fault either). I wish it was illegal for non handicap people to use the service without sufficient proof.
Sorry to hear about that. You have righteous indignation about this situation whereas mine as little more annoyance and disgust.
The pain I’ve gone through isn’t something I would wish upon anyone, and it’s sick to me that someone who is perfectly capable of walking long distances doesn’t because it’s “easier”. Maybe someone will come along at some point and destroy your life and you’ll actually understand what it means to be in a wheelchair.
100% agree with you. Lots of people abuse of this service to speed thru security and immigration lines. Another clear abuse is people that use disability tags on cars to park on preferred spots. Let me be clear I understand someone in their family may have a disability that entitles them to have the tag in their cars BUT many times I see family members using the cars without anyone with disability on it. How many times I see perfectly fit people jumping out of a disable parking spot to go to supermarket or stores.
Thank you, Kyle!
As the father of a now adult handicapped son, it is so hard to not become enraged when people abuse disability assistance. My son has a lifetime of hardship, and will only use handicapped services when he has no choice. The epitome was an obese woman who walked and hiked everywhere with us on a cruise only to demand wheelchair assistance on her flight back home. People who abuse compassion and consideration are low lifes.
We are certainly doomed. Not because of wheelchair abusers, but rather we have quickly become a nation where we are super quick to condemn people before knowing all the facts on issues that generally do not impact us.
There seems to be magical cures during the flights!! aka abuse of the wheelchair system!Anyone not seeing this PAY ATTENTION!!
Years ago, a flight I worked into JFK had 18 wheelchair requests. I asked the agent how they handled that and was told, “It’s easy…we wait 15 minutes before providing any chairs. Anyone still left truly needs one. After 15 minutes, there was one passenger left. When her chair arrived, she hopped up, threw her carry-on into the chair, and took off down the jetway. We couldn’t catch up with her.
Yes, it is mostly the Indian people that abuse this wheelchair facility. I just dropped my wife to the airport. She called me back that there were around 70 wheel chair passengers. And with many of those elderly passengers, there were many younger passengers that got to board early too.
In spite of she being in business class, she said that around 75% of the passengers had already boarded before her.
This is simply ridiculous.
I am Disheartened by the amount of abuse that not only occurs in airports, but all around the world for people who have disabilities. Especially, those of us that require the use of wheelchairs. I speak from experience. For the last several years, I have been confined to a wheelchair when going out and/or traveling ✈️. If I had a choice, I would Happily be patient and walk on my own merit♀️. However, my disability/mobility is not a choice. I am planning a trip out of the country for 10 days in at the end of the year. I’m fortunate to have good friends that will live in my home and care for my pets, while I’m gone . However, I’m Dreading the airport and airline experience. Wish me luck!