This edition of the Reader Mailbag is focused on wheelchair assistance at the airport for disabled passengers.
Every so often, I’ll dip into the mailbag to answer questions about accessible travel from readers just like you. If you have a question you’d like answered, send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.
The following question was submitted by Mark from Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. He wrote:
We are traveling through two cities where we have to make plane changes. In Atlanta, San Francisco and to different airlines. We have never changed airlines with wheelchair assistance. I know to contact the airlines, but who is responsible when you leave Delta for example and the next flight is United for example?
This is a great question, and concerns a situation that passengers may face on international itineraries or when they are combining two or more tickets from different airlines to get a better deal.
Using Mark’s example, let’s say he is flying from New York to Honolulu, with stops in Atlanta and San Francisco. Let’s also say, for the sake of this example, that the flight from New York to Atlanta is operated by Delta, the flight from Atlanta to San Francisco is operated by United, and the flight from San Francisco to Honolulu is operated by Hawaiian Airlines. That’s three flights, three different airlines and two connections.
The Air Carrier Access Act (read a summary), which sets the rules for airline accessibility, states the following about wheelchair assistance and connecting flights between different carriers:
§382.91(a) As a carrier, you must provide or ensure the provision of assistance requested by or on behalf of a passenger with a disability, or offered by carrier or airport operator personnel and accepted by a passenger with a disability, in transportation between gates to make a connection to another flight. If the arriving flight and the departing connecting flight are operated by different carriers, the carrier that operated the arriving flight (i.e., the one that operates the first of the two flights that are connecting) is responsible for providing or ensuring the provision of this assistance, even if the passenger holds a separate ticket for the departing flight. It is permissible for the two carriers to mutually agree that the carrier operating the departing connecting flight (i.e., the second flight of the two) will provide this assistance, but the carrier operating the arriving flight remains responsible under this section for ensuring that the assistance is provided.
The TLDR version of that is, the airline you fly in on is responsible for providing assistance to your next flight, no matter which airline that flight is on.
So, in our example, Delta’s assistance team would get Mark to his United flight in Atlanta and United’s team would provide assistance to his Hawaiian Airlines flight in San Francisco.
To make things easier for the people helping you, and to make sure you get to your connecting flight on time, print out copies of your flight itineraries and bring them with you. These itineraries will let the assistance team know where to take you next. This is especially important if your connecting flight is on a separate ticket, as the inbound carrier’s staff may not have access to that flight information.