To get around waiting in notoriously long and slow-moving airport security lines, some quite able-bodied passengers are requesting wheelchairs to get through security and TSA screeners more quickly. From there, they are brought directly to their gate by uniformed attendants and allowed to board first at which point, the New York Times says, some hop up, heavy bag(s) in hand and walk on.
There are no statistics on airport “wheelchair cheats” and the percentage of people doing this appears to be small. But hearing about this making me think that some people really have no shame.
The use of the wheelchairs pushed by attendants at airports is not at all regulated. People requesting the chairs are not required to show any medical proof of a disability. The attendants, who only make between $9 to $14 an hour and rely on tips, have plenty of motivation to look the other way when the person who was, just a moment a go, sitting in a wheelchair, is on their own two feet and hurrying off.
Those in wheelchairs board planes first and disembark last. As a result, there may be a small crowd of people in wheelchairs in the boarding area of a flight while, says the New York Times, it is not unusual a to see a couple of empty chairs at the arrival gate. As Kelly Skyles, a flight attendant and the national safety and security coordinator for the Association of Professional Flight Attendants, says:
We’d say there was a miracle because they all needed a wheelchair getting on, but not getting off. Not only do we serve them beverages and ensure their safety — now we’re healing the sick.
The 1986 federal Air Carrier Access Act mandated accommodations for travelers with disabilities and airports provide the wheelchairs for free. But while you need a permit to park in a spot designated for individuals with disabilities, no such proof is required for an airport wheelchair. Peter Greenberg, the travel editor for CBS News, even tells the New York Times that there seems to be a correlation between stricter airport security checks and more people exploiting the loophole.
I know a number of people with disabilities who indeed need wheelchairs in airports. They would much rather walk and the stories behind why they are using the chair — an amputation due to an accident, multiple sclerosis — are full of painful, tough experiences.
It can be argued that there’s no real harm done when those without disabilities request a wheelchair. The attendants get some business and there are one (or two or three) fewer people in the security line.There are cases in which people, such as elderly passengers, request the chairs as they are not able to stand in long security lines or to manage the distances in airports. But when I think of the efforts relatives and friends with disabilities, or who have children with disabilities, have to make not only to get through the airport but to the airport and to manage on the airplane with all manner of medical equipment, wheelchair cheats are a troubling symbol of how little understanding there is for what it means to have a physical or other disability.
Far from being a “convenience,” needing to ask for a wheelchair is a stark reminder of accommodations that you have no choice but to ask for. Disability is not something you can just take a vacation from.
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Photo by ISO 1987