Yesterday, I flew my one millionth mile as a wheelchair user. My million mile flight was operated by American Airlines, AA 228, non-stop service from Dallas, Texas to Seattle, Washington. I needed 759 miles to hit a million, and our 759th mile occurred between Oak Creek and Hayden, Colorado, just southwest of Steamboat Springs. I ordered a glass of sparkling wine to celebrate the occasion.
Many wheelchair users hate to fly. Airlines constantly and repeatedly violate our rights — the ones defined in federal laws and regulations like the Air Carrier Access Act. They mishandle and damage wheelchairs frequently — more than 5,000 in the first half of 2019 alone.
As I told the airlines assembled at the 2019 IATA Global Accessibility Symposium, the status quo is unacceptable. Society would not accept airlines’ repeated violation of the civil rights of any other minority group. Eventually, the world will wake up to our plight.
All that said, I am not like most wheelchair users. I love to fly. I am an aviation geek. A frequent flyer miles junkie. I love everything about aviation, except how inaccessible it is.
In nearly six years of traveling with my wheelchair, I’ve flown on more than 50 airlines — from the second-to-last row on European budget carrier Ryanair to seat 1A in Cathay Pacific’s luxurious first class. With each flight (773 and counting), I’ve been transported to new destinations, met new people and gained new experiences. Accessible or not, air travel connects me to the world, and these last million miles have granted me a lifetime of memories.
Although I am a tough critic of airlines’ treatment of disabled flyers (and rightly so!), I have never wanted to discourage others from flying. The world has so much to offer disabled travelers, and there are incredible wheelchair accessible destinations just waiting to be explored. Air travel places those destinations within reach, and I will be forever grateful for my ability to fly.
On to the next million miles!