The February 2022 Air Travel Consumer Report released today contains data on the number of wheelchairs transported and mishandled by airlines during 2021, the third full year such data has been available.
The chart above lists the total number of wheelchairs and scooters carried by each of the 10 major U.S. airlines and their branded codeshare partners from January 2021 through December 2021. Delta Air Lines carried the largest number of wheelchairs and scooters in 2021, with a total of 150,555.
Together, all reporting carriers transported a total of 532,306 wheelchairs and scooters during the 2021 calendar year. The total wheelchairs carried in 2021 was 22% fewer than the 2019 peak of 685,792, but nearly double the 2020 total of 268,676.
The global pandemic has had a tremendous impact on accessible travel demand, with 57% of disabled travelers identifying as high risk for serious complications due to the coronavirus, as reported in the 2020 Accessible Travel Study. Following a partial recovery in 2021, demand for accessible travel is expected to further increase in 2022, perhaps reaching 2019 levels.
Although a substantial number of travelers — more than half a million — flew with their own wheelchair in 2021, disabled people are still underrepresented among airline passengers. Full-time wheelchair users account for more than 1% of the U.S. population, but represent less than 0.1% of the more than 632 million passengers enplaned by reporting carriers last year.
As an increasing number of barriers deny disabled people the opportunity to fly safely and with dignity, greater action by governments, regulators and accessibility advocates is necessary. Advocates should not rest until disabled people achieve the same freedom of movement granted to non-disabled people. We won’t have adequate inclusion until the total number of personal wheelchairs and scooters carried on airplanes is measured in the millions (or tens of millions), and the world is opened to everyone.
Keep advocating and keep flying!