One blogger who traveled with American Airlines found the airline’s wheelchair policy confusing and restrictive, but his story inspired American to take another look at the rules.
John Morris, a three-time amputee, has traveled in a wheelchair to 46 countries and started the Wheelchair Travel blog, where he shares his adventures and has set up an online community for accessible travel.
Morris recently traveled to Dallas from his Gainesville, Florida home – his first trip since the pandemic began in March – when he was turned down by American Airlines because of the weight of his wheelchair.
His power chair has now exceeded the weight limit for his CRJ-700 Jet.
“The airline implemented this new policy because it damaged a large number of power wheelchairs that they were loading onto regional planes … [and] In order to protect my wheelchair, they were no longer willing to accept it on board, ”Morris told NPR.
American Airlines’ website did not list any weight restrictions, but a representative informed him it went into effect June 12 and showed Morris the new weight restrictions for mobility aids.
– Embraer RJ-175 – 400 lbs.
– Embraer RJ-170 – 400 lbs.
– Embraer ERJ-145 – 400 lbs.
– Embraer ERJ-140 – 400 lbs.
– Canadair RJ 900 – 300 lbs.
– Canadair RJ 700 – 300 lbs.
On his blog, Morris pointed out that this would generally ban wheelchair users from flying in most parts of America.
He drew up a map showing how restrictive this new policy was to flying on American Airlines for those who use power wheelchairs, and found that there are now 130 airports in the adjacent United States that many power wheelchair users can no longer fly to an “air transport desert”.
Instead of complaining, Morris modified his chair and had the airline remove the batteries so the wheelchair was light enough to fly. Although the chair was allowed, it made the trip far more terrifying. Morris reported that he was stranded in his hotel room for 14 hours because the batteries did not work properly when reattached.
He found that other airlines were far less restrictive and welcomed him and his wheelchair regardless of weight. However, he remains confident that the American will take steps to change his policy after learning of his experience.
There is some hope that it is correct. After hearing Morris’ story about NPR, American Airlines said in a statement: “We apologize for the confusion and will ensure that all customers can travel anywhere Americans fly.”
They also told the Dallas Morning News that they “are working with our safety team, aircraft manufacturers, and the FAA to change these limits so that heavy mobility devices and wheelchairs can continue to be safely stored on our smaller regional aircraft. For our customers with disabilities, we hear you and will continue to listen and work hard to improve your American travel experience. “