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sep 27

Too disabled to fly? A smart debate

Several readers have posted highly informed and impassioned comments about our previous blog post, Too Disabled To Fly? At issue is the question of whether an airline can—and should—allow a severely disabled passenger on board a plane.

Lisa, one reader, says the law—and common sense—were on the side of US Airways when its flight attendants prevented a severely disabled passenger from boarding a plane.

The ADA [Americans with Disabilities Act] does not govern this situation, but the ACAA does. The Air Carrier Access Act, available here: http://www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/waisidx_02/14cfr382_02.html In section 382.35 Attendants, it is very clear this passenger is wrong. Airlines are allowed to require an attendant in some circumstances, including believing the passenger is unable to assist in their own evacuation. However, if the passenger disagrees with the attendant requirement, the airline can still require an attendant, they just can't charge for the attendant's seat. So what we have here is yet another person suing when they don't know the rules, another attorney who took the case despite a very clear opposing rule, a media who wants to vilify the airlines and me, a fellow passenger who is put at risk by this man's selfishness. GO US Airways and thanks for looking out for the rest of us.

Juanita, a former flight attendant, agrees:

I realize how difficult it can be to get healthy people off the plane in an emergency. It seems that he would be the first to sue the airlines should he not be able to evacuate or had injuries in the process. This country's people must start taking responsibility for themselves and quit with the lawsuits.

Meanwhile, Joseph begs to differ, given his own experience:

This has me at a loss, as it goes against everything I have heard and experienced. I have been a quadriplegic for over 25 years. I have very limited use of my upper extremities and no use of my lower extremities. I could not be of any assistance in evacuating the plane, yet it has never resulted in my being denied flying. In fact, just the opposite is true.

The airlines have all provided personnel who were quite good at transferring me from my wheelchair to a thin chair to carry onto the plane and then into the plane seat, then doing the reverse at my destination. In making reservations, I am assured the bulkhead seat. I am put on the plane first, and I disembark last. I have even, on one occasion, flown with a service dog who stayed at me feet in the cabin. I know of others in similar situations who have had the same experience....

The safety issue that people have mentioned is ludicrous except for, possibly, the flight crew that might need to supply assistance. While people's evacuations might be impeded by many of the 'able bodied' people [e.g, someone with a sprained/broken ankle who hobbles, a person with a bad back, an elderly person, someone panicking in the aisle, the pregnant lady, a young child, an obese person, and innumerable other possibilities, not to mention the new disabilities people might have in the event of a problem with the aircraft], the severely disabled person who can't assist in his own evacuation will be sitting out of the way, strapped in their seat until everyone else is off and assistance can be provided to them.].

And lastly, there's JJones, who "sees both sides of the issue."

My father was a paraplegic for almost 40 years (he died last Dec.). He flew many times during those years, always accompanied by my mother. While he had use of his arms (which were very strong, from pushing his 200 lb. self around in a wheelchair for all those years), I'm not sure how much he would have been able to "assist" in his own evacuation. There were plenty of times when he fell out of his chair, over the years, and my mother had to get a neighbor to help pick him up. One thing I do know is that my family takes responsibility for their own actions... i.e. you don't sue somebody for something YOU should ultimately be responsible for. Perhaps having "questionable" passengers sign a release of liability would solve the problem? I mean, if you are willing to be responsible for your own evacuation, I don't think you should be denied.

Read the full comments and blog post.

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Note:This story was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.

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