America’s Next Top Model Winner Blasts United Airlines Over Wheelchair

Normally you need to request wheelchair assistance, or have someone do it for you. I don’t often see airlines proactively enter wheelchairs into a reservation. Yet

American’s Next Top Model winner Nyle DiMarco claims United Airlines did just that, suggesting they were confused that his being deaf means he’s unable to walk through the airport on his own. The man also won Dancing With the Stars.

He flew Denver – Los Angeles on United on Sunday and when he deplaned there was a wheelchair waiting for him on the jet bridge.

Oddly this keeps happening to DiMarco and he can’t strictly speaking just blame United here. In December he made news when Delta did the same thing.

Maybe Delta agents are that proactive, though the only time in my life I needed a wheelchair to travel I flew Delta and needed to request it myself. But Delta and United in the span of a couple of months? I’m skeptical. Perhaps someone requested a wheelchair for him in both instances.

And that’s even though I once experienced a proactive wheelchair request of my own. Three years ago an Alaska Airlines agent seemingly put in a wheelchair request in my reservation after I showed what kind of a klutz I am by spilling coffee before a 6 a.m. flight.

That was highly inappropriate because it may have meant that someone else would have been waiting for a wheelchair that was tied up to help me, and because the person pushing the wheelchair lost out on a potential tip (I didn’t tip them).

I wasn’t offended though, and some passengers even request wheelchair assistance when they don’t need it in order to get priority and skip queues.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. So he’s bitching cause they’re trying to proactively help him, even if they were wrong, they meant well.
    What an entitled little brat.

  2. Isn’t the easy answer that there is some catch all box that agents are checking that says “disabled” or “disability” and someone on the other end just goes “oh ok I’ll get him a wheelchair”?

    I doubt it’s lack of understanding. Sounds system related.

  3. Have been on a “miracle flight” or two that Gary describes in his last paragraph. One involved seeing two perfectly healthy card-playing ladies from the AA lounge get wheeled onto the flight ahead of all the other pax. The most amazing one involved watching a wheelchair-bound patient jump up out of her wheelchair, grab her luggage from the luggage carousel, and walk out of the airport with it. “It’s a miracle!”

  4. The need for WCH assistance can vary. Some people simply cannot walk long distances with any luggage (think check-in to gate/lounge in most airports) or virtually stand-still in various lines for long periods. When this assistance is supplied by the airline, in excruciating collapsible beach chair like chairs on wheels, it is in the interests of the attendant to get the job over with as quickly as possible, and move on to the next job, hence the cutting into lines.
    I often need this assistance, but as I travel J or F and with status, I have some entitlement for this anyway. Glarers clearly don’t factor in this possibility; I would gladly change places with the fully mobile anytime, except those who choose Basic Economy…..

  5. Meanwhile, my partner, who had Polio as a young child, whose disability is both medically documented and readily apparent before he reaches the check in counter and ask the agent to be provided the wheelchair requested when he/I book his flights, is often forced to endure exceptionally long waits for wheelchairs and attendants to arrive to bring him to/from/ between gates – that is if they show up at all.

    In fact, one time I could not accompany him to the airport for a business trip, the wait for a wheelchair and an attendant was so long, he called me to say his flight would be closing soon while he was still waiting for a wheelchair/attendant to arrive, that was only resolved after I called the airline, they contacted the airport, and they held his flight until after they finally got him to the gate since this was at an airport where the gates are so far away, it easily takes me more than 10 minutes to “speed walk” to/from.

    Another time, and alas at the same airport (JFK) I was with him, and when the wait time dragged on and on and on for a wheelchair and attendant to he provided, I got things sped up considerably after I spoke with the supervisor of the third party contractor the airline uses, and after letting him know I used to work out at JFK, and noting that I knew the name of the owner of the company he worked for, and several of the major contractors that provide facilities repair and maintenance there, within a matter of moments wheelchair, attendant AND a TSA Agent who then personally escorted us through security and then beyond to an awaiting golf cart like transport whereup we were whisked to among the furthest gates at that VERY long terminal.

    Yes, these are extreme situations, with many times things working out perfectly (especially at MCO which for an USA Airport is among the best in our experiences).

    Still, even in RDU, which is an airport we love, and clearly much smaller than JFK, LGA or EWR, the wait for a wheelchair and an attendant nearly always seems like freakin’ forever for departures – which we find somewhat unusual if only because the arrivals side of any trip is when waits are typically long, and outright neglect or abandonment is likeliest to happen for reduced mobility passengers, yet at RDU, our experience upon arrivals is among the quickest and the most pleasant.

    Anyhow, while my partner (nor I based on our first hand experiences) cannot speak for all reduced mobility passengers, we only wished the problems faced when he/we travel is an unwanted bounty of wheelchairs awaiting him as Nyle has a better known tv personality who did exceptionally well on two popular reality competitions where his dashing good looks, ripped, althetic body, and dance moves most of us could only dream of being able to do half as well as Nyle did despite his hearing impairment.

    Perhaps it has more to do with how the boxes ticked/checked in his reservation are processed as hearing loss/impairments are grouped under the “Special Services” section on the booking pages where wheelchair requests are made.

    In addition, for my partner’s father whose hearing is not what it used to be, as he’s also elderly and requires a wheelchair to traverse the long distances at airports, perhaps every so often an overzealous agent assumes that an indication of hearing loss/impairment might also be for someone requiring a wheelchair.

    But, whatever the reason, most of the ordinary folks who legitimately require wheelchair assistance when they fly only wish Nyle’s “problem” was THEIR problem 😉

    Perhaps instead of “guilting” or shaming airlines when this happens Nyle could use his prominence to call attention to the needs of those reduced mobility passengers who don’t rate the VIP “Star” treatment and NEVER have his “problem” instead of making it all about himself!

  6. I once tore my calve muscle while placing my suitcase on the belt at the security check point in AMS. I do not recommend it – it is VERY painful, and you basically can’t walk. The security people would only tell me to go the air side pax service desk. How I made it there is a story for another day (I basically could not walk and NOBODY offered assistance).

    I made it to CLT via ATL just fine with wheel chair help along the way. Encouraged by this I booked my next trip CLT – SEA on DL via ATL. On the way back, the SEA – ATL flight arrived into B, and the side of that terminal was undergoing an upgrade (paint, new seating, new concessions, etc.). I deplaned with my crutches and waited with a very old lady for the wheel chairs to emerge. They never showed. The crew left the plane and they made (again) phone calls to help us out.The gate agents had left already. Our side of the B terminal was now only populated with contractors who started putting up big sheets of plastic to avoid dust and paint from flying everywhere.

    After I found a wondering crew member while walking on crutches, she again called in for wheel chairs which eventually arrived after another 20 minute wait. You’ll understand I missed my connection. And Delta never apologized, even though I kept them up-to-date via Twitter (their Twitter team is usually on point but failed this time, too).

    I am very grateful for the people pushing wheelchairs around a big and busy airport. It is a low paying and physically hard job. But I was very grateful when I could move myself around again and was not depending on the wheel chair opps…

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