If you need assistance contact your airline in advance and they’ll arrange for a wheelchair. There’s officially no cost for the service although in most U.S. airports the people pushing make much of their money on tips. It’s never clear the right amount to tip. Some feel $5 is appropriate, others tip $20. There’s no medical verification needed to request this. And some people ask for the service who don’t, strictly speak, ‘need it’.
When a flight has numerous passengers with wheelchair assistance on boarding, and then most of those passengers get off themselves and walk out of the terminal – walking right past the waiting wheelchairs on the jet bridge – it’s known as a “miracle flight.” Here’s one recent Southwest Airlines flight where 20 passengers used wheelchairs to board, and only 3 used them to get off. 17 passengers experienced an inflight miracle.
— Paul (@trendready) June 24, 2023
Let’s be clear: there are certainly cases where someone might need assistance on boarding and not deplaning. But that’s also highly unlikely to be the case for 17 passengers (85% of those needing wheelchair assistance) here.
In addition to the medicinal benefits of flying that cures these passengers, explanations may include a desire for:
- Better seating which is unique to Southwest. You’re going to get a better deal tipping a wheelchair attendant than buying Early Bird Check-in in order to get a better seat.
@SouthwestAir. The wheelchair scam continues this morning. How do a family of 'C' boarding Pre-board? Get grandma to sit in a wheelchair. Now the whole family (5) gets to accompany her. pic.twitter.com/JORUPaXdMr
— Paul (@trendready) June 25, 2023
- Access to overhead bin space. If you’ve got a late boarding group there may not be overhead bin space. But board with a wheelchair and you go on early, bin space is yours.
- Free carry on with a basic economy fare on United. If you need priority boarding assistance you aren’t in the last boarding group, and the full-sized carry on ban on the cheapest tickets is enforced by boarding group.
- Priority check-in and security. But if you’re savvy enough to ask for a wheelchair you are savvy enough to get PreCheck and check-in online and do bag drop.
Since the biggest benefit – seat selection, in addition to airport priority – comes when flying Southwest, it’s little surprise this is noted most in social media with Southwest flights.
A friend shares a not-uncommon sight from Puerto Rico:
55 "handicapped" during pre-boarding, including 25 wheel chairs
On his return flight, 15 used wheelchairs to board, only 1 to deboard pic.twitter.com/gHgIsnzsq7
— Bachman (@ElonBachman) February 19, 2023
Another flight on @SouthwestAir, and I’m happy to report being witness to more miracles. These poor souls came seeking a flight, and instead were healed. 🙌🏻🙌🏻
Always grateful for witnessing the miraculous healing power of flight. pic.twitter.com/7TCYn2T6BB
— Dave Ruminates (@dave_ruminates) April 5, 2023
The reason this concerns me is that people asking for wheelchair assistance who do not need it prevents or delays people who do need assistance from getting it. If everyone at the gate showed up needing early boarding it would defeat the purpose of early boarding (‘if everyone gets early boarding then no one does’).