Everybody is flying these days. Indeed, air travel is one of the most popular forms of travel. Unfortunately, for people with disabilities, air travel can also be one of the most problematic areas of travel. Perhaps it’s because there are just so many things that can go wrong on any flight. And then again, perhaps it’s due to the mountain of misinformation circulating about accessible air travel.
I believe it’s a combination of both factors; however, I tend to favor the misinformation theory, mostly because of with this growing phenomenon. So, what’s wrong with a little misinformation? Well, if you rely on it and accept it as the truth, you may be in for a rude awakening when you take off on your holiday and find out that it’s incorrect. Admittedly, it can be difficult to ferret out the wheat from the chaff, as far as misinformation is concerned. This situation is further complicated by the fact that you can’t always determine a person’s credibility based on his or her position in the community. Just because somebody is a well respected professional does not mean that they’re also an expert on accessible travel.
In air travel some airlines, like Air New Zealand, refuse to assist passengers with transfers. In fact, Air New Zealand’s official policy states, “If you are unable to self-lift to transfer between the wheelchair or aisle chair and the aircraft seat, a support person will be required.” More specifically, that means you have to provide your own support person if you cannot transfer by yourself. And finally, Ryan air, the Ireland-based self-routed “low fare airline” actually charges extra to carry some disabled passengers. These charges are not reflected in Ryan air’s published fares, because passengers are required to pay them directly to third-party contractors who provide wheelchair assistance at some U.K. airports. Contractors at these airports charge a lift-on and lift-off fee of £12.50 per occurrence. Disability rights activists have tried to fight Ryan air on this issue, but to no avail. The fight continues and hopefully, one day Ryan air’s discriminatory practices will be a thing of the past. For now, it’s best to avoid Ryan air at all costs. Choose an airline that doesn’t charge extra for accessible services.
Air travel, time will tell how much protection AIR 21 will offer. For now, the best advice is to proceed with caution and operate on the assumption that only U.S. carriers are required to abide by the ACAA. The ACAA is a pretty straightforward piece of legislation; that is, until you get to the gray area of code share flights. A code share is a marketing agreement between two airlines, in which one air travel airline operates flights under the code of the other airline. In practice, some foreign code share partners may still deny boarding to unaccompanied wheelchair-users. Granted, it’s technically against the law, but it does happen, and it’s the kind of thing that can really ruin your vacation. The bottom line is, always err on the side of caution. That way, you know you’re protected under the ACAA.