Air Travel: Wheelchair Passenger Safety Expert Article

Air travel passengers who require wheelchair assistance are protected against discrimination by air carriers and entitled to certain accommodations under the guidelines of the Air Carrier Access Act (ACSS) of 1986 and Title 14 Code of Federal Regulations part 382 14 CFR (14 CFR Part 382). 

In this article, Aviation Cabin Safety Expert, Kathleen Lord-Jones describes the air carrier policies and procedures in place to prevent falls and other injuries from occurring during boarding or deplaning an aircraft. 

Air Travel: Wheelchair Passenger Safety - Expert Article

Air Travel: Wheelchair Passenger Safety

If wheelchair assistance is necessary at any time within their travels, the passenger must self-identify to the air carrier as an individual with an ambulation disability and request wheelchair assistance. Once requested, the airline is obligated to provide wheelchair transport within the airport to the aircraft door, and, depending on the passenger’s ambulatory limitations, to the passenger’s assigned seat via a specially designed aisle wheelchair that fits in the aircraft aisle. Semi-ambulatory passengers who require help getting out of their wheelchairs and on to the aircraft are assisted by both the ground personnel and the cabin crew.

There are typically three types of assistance requested:

  1. Passengers who are semi-ambulatory and can use stairs and walk to their seat on the aircraft but need assistance moving within the airport. These passengers are ticketed with the code WCHR in their reservation and on their boarding pass.
  2. Passengers who are semi-ambulatory and cannot use stairs without assistance but can walk to their seat once onboard the aircraft and need assistance moving within the airport. These passengers are ticketed with the code WCHS in their reservation and on their boarding pass.
  3. Passengers who are non-ambulatory and always need a wheelchair. These passengers are ticketed with the code WCHC in their reservation and on their boarding pass.

Flight Attendant Procedures for Assisting Wheelchair Passengers

Flight attendants are notified by the airline of the name and the seat location of all wheelchair passenger on their flight. During boarding, deplaning, and while in-flight, flight attendants are trained in assisting these passengers to move within the aircraft, stow, and retrieve their carry-on baggage, and, if needed, provide, and assist with the usage of the on-board wheelchair (if present).

Flight attendants are also trained to provide individual safety briefings which include the closest emergency exit to passengers with mobility issues, especially those passengers who are coded as WCHC, and a plan to assist the passenger to the exit in the event of an emergency. At least one personal wheelchair can be stowed in the cabin. Flight attendants are aware of the stowage location for the wheelchair and proper procedures in securing them prior to departure.

Clear communication between the passenger and the airline employees is paramount throughout the passenger’s travels. When a passenger has self-identified to a carrier that they have mobility limitations, transporting that individual safely to the aircraft can only be achieved with clear policies and procedures and adequate training. 

Wheelchair Passenger Injury Expert Investigations

A forensic investigation of a case involving an injured wheelchair passenger typically starts with a review of the airline’s procedures and training for assisting wheelchair passengers on and off the aircraft. An investigation of the incident is used to determine if policies and procedures were followed and enforced by the airline’s employees, and to determine if both passengers and employees acted in a reasonable manner.

For more information, submit an inquiry or call us at 800.813.6736.

Featured Expert

Kathleen Lord-Jones, Aviation Cabin Safety Expert

Kathleen Lord-Jones

Aviation Cabin Safety Expert
Kathleen Lord- Jones is well respected throughout the aviation industry as an expert in cabin safety. Cabin safety deals with all activities that cabin crew must accomplish to maintain safety in the… read more.

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