In June, American Airlines set an arbitrary weight limit on power wheelchairs, effectively banning the mobility devices from certain aircraft types and restricting access to approximately 130 U.S. airports. After I was refused transport by American Airlines in October, I devised a plan to reduce the weight of my power wheelchair by removing medically necessary features and taking out the batteries.

Although I was ultimately able to fly, the experience was a harrowing one with numerous unnecessary setbacks — including a period of about 14 hours stuck in a hotel room after my wheelchair became inoperable. American Airlines had failed to properly reattach the batteries, but couldn’t dispatch a repair technician on short notice.

While trying to deal with American Airlines, I wondered if other airlines had instituted similar policies with no warning? In researching this question, it appears as though they have not. A Delta Air Lines supervisor told me that my wheelchair could fly on their regional aircraft, so long as it could fit through the cargo door (it can). There is no weight limit for mobility devices, she said.

Selfie taken onboard a United Airlines CRJ-700 aircraft.
Flying with United Airlines.

Last week, I had the opportunity to test the policy of United Airlines, as I flew with them from Salt Lake City to San Francisco, then onward to Las Vegas. The SLC to SFO leg was operated by a CRJ-700 aircraft, the same type that American refused to transport me and my wheelchair on last month.

Although my wheelchair far exceeded the arbitrary weight limit of 300 pounds that American has instituted, United welcomed it with open arms and a smile. The baggage handlers responsible for loading the wheelchair came up to me proactively and offered assurances that it would be treated with extreme care.

The power wheelchair was loaded as-is (no disassembly) and the flight proceeded as normal, with great in-flight service from an attentive cabin crew and a safe arrival to the destination. United seems to understand that the “friendly skies” must be accessible, at least in this instance.

My trip with United is further evidence that American’s policy is unnecessary, unwarranted and discriminatory. It must go. I believe that it will, thanks to your support in sharing my stories via social media and amplifying my message that equal access in air travel is a civil right. Help me keep up the pressure as American Airlines continues to drag its feet in reviewing changes to its policy.

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