Flying Snakes?

Reprinted from PN August 2012

For wheelchair users, air travel is still nothing short of a hazardous adventure.

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Every time I start to write something on this topic, I wonder what the actual and politically correct title should be.

Should we call ourselves “disabled passengers on airplanes” or perhaps “mobility challenged individuals who fly” or, from the airline perspective, “Snakes on a plane?”

I do know I can no longer refer to myself as a “handicapped” flyer. Bottom line is, I know flying for me and others who use a wheelchair remains nothing short of a hazardous adventure.

Not My Responsibility

The 1986 Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA) requires commercial U.S. carriers and foreign carriers who fly in the U.S. to provide flights accessible to people with physical and cognitive disabilities.

In 2009, a particular airline unstrapped me and let me fall out of the aisle chair upon landing. I spent the next seven hours in the emergency room.

In March of last year, Dr. Bob Huskey was dropped from an aisle chair and fractured his hip. Other than a civil lawsuit for negligence and your damages, I believe there are no adequate remedies for enforcement or change.

The Department of Transportation (DOT) does an annual survey of disability air travel complaints the airlines receive. If they receive enough complaints, a fine may be imposed.

Huskey and I filed two different complaints with two different airlines. We each were offered “not my responsibility” form letters and free travel miles.

The DOT responses acknowledged violations of the ACAA but says their response couldn’t be used as a basis for a lawsuit. If enough complaints similar to ours were filed, the department may levy sanctions. To date no sanctions have been imposed on those airlines.


This leads me and others to conclude that air travel remains inaccessible to those with mobility impairments, and efforts to make it accessible have failed.

After Huskey was dropped in March 2011 and he sent formal letters to the airline and DOT, the airline and the contract service provider contacted him that August.

We met in the Gateway PVA office with the contract service provider that did Huskey’s transfer and handled his wheelchair. They offered to assist in contacting other airline carriers as well as contract service providers, to meet with Paralyzed Veterans of America (PVA) representatives in Washington, D.C.

PVA Training Plan

The meeting took place in March and had representatives from Southwest, United, American, Delta, and JetBlue as well as contract service providers from AirServ, Prospect, and Prime Flight.

To my knowledge, the only airline that does not contract out “taking care of” disabled passengers and their wheelchairs is Southwest.

The meeting resulted in a plan to have PVA representatives helping provide in-person training to airlines and contract service providers across the country. PVA is coordinating its chapters’ members on a regional basis to provide that training.


During the meeting, I presented results of a five-month survey. One of the questions had only a 39% “agree” from respondents saying they had a favorable airplane trip.

Gateway PVA will again post the survey and track the results to see if the airline meeting and subsequent training with PVA assistance has accomplished anything.

If you have had an unbearable airline travel experience, take the survey at


To read more about this, order the August 2012 PN, Click Here.
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Flying Snakes?


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