I was alerted to a petition today written by a spirited man with a spinal cord injury. In it, he argues why commercial airplanes should be made fully accessible to power wheelchairs. And in case you didn’t know, they’re not right now.
If you’re like me and use a power wheelchair and you have plans to fly, here’s what you’ll have to do: Get to the terminal early (you need to get checked-in first), and this is where you will get out of your wheelchair and transfer into an airline wheelchair. Say adios to your wheelchair, it’s going in the belly of the plane for the remainder of your adventure (there’s no room for 300 pound wheelchairs in the cabin unfortunately).
And then you will be rolled onto the plane and transferred into a regular airplane seat. They’ll strap you in, and that’s it. This is where you’ll remain until you arrive at your destination. If you need to use the bathroom, using the aisle chair is a possibility, but more times than not you need to be able to stand up to use the bathroom. It can be tricky (or blatantly inaccessible depending on your mood).
So why have airlines been able to get away with this for so long, despite the ADA governing public spaces? The FAA stands firm that it’s dangerous for someone to be in a wheelchair while the plane is in flight. Apparently, we are at risk (?). But the question I have is if people can stand up and walk to the bathroom when there’s no turbulence, why can’t we roll?
In the petition that I saw today here, the 20-something man with a spinal cord injury explains almost every side of the situation on why it’s important for planes to fully accommodate power wheelchairs in the cabin: Skin issues and why we need to remain in our seating during long flights, the extra time it can take to get our power chair back, which isn’t fair if we’re in a situation where we’re transferring flights within an hour (nearly impossible without holding up the plane, pissing off the other passengers) to being just uncomfortable.
The one thing he doesn’t bring up, or maybe he doesn’t realize however, is that being in your powerchair when the plane is taking off and landing is not safe; it’s a very steep incline and decline And this is especially unsafe for people sitting high up in a power chair. You know how crazy some takeoffs can be. The airplane seats need to sit at the right level and angle for the utmost safety.
Is there a possible solution to make each party happy in this situation? I don’t think so, not unless a brand new type of airplane is invented; maybe one that took off more like a helicopter (now that would be a pretty awesome sight). But until then, this is our reality, and it’s for our own safety.
I won’t argue that it’s demeaning, risky (9 times out of 10 your chair will get broken by the handlers below) and not fair whatsoever, but there’s no way of getting around the safety needs of an airplane (or maybe I’m mistaken…any airplane experts out there are reading this, chime in). I too wish I could just roll right on and be done with it. Maybe by 2077 that will be a reality.
Is it safe or unsafe for people to stay in their power wheelchairs while an airplane is in flight? Or do you think they’re just worried about liability concerns? Please share your thoughts below.