When 55 passengers board a single flight using wheelchairs, that’s tough not to notice. But when only 25 need assistance getting off the plane at their destination, it starts to look like 30 people requested assistance just to get priority board, plus maybe assistance through the security line at the airport.
And since this is a Southwest Airlines flights, wheelchair assistance means getting on board in front of those with an “A” boarding group – ahead of people who paid the highest fares and have the highest status. That means having first choice of seats on the aircraft.
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
Some unscrupulous people request wheelchair assistance at the airport when they don’t need it, using their ‘injury’ for a whole bunch of benefits:
- Early boarding gets them access to overhead bin space before other passengers, and avoids being forced to gate check bags.
- It also gets around basic economy restrictions at United which are enforced by boarding group, netting a free carry on bag.
- On Southwest they’d have their choice of seats on board.
- Plus help skipping security lines.
At the same time, some flights are going to have a lot more wheelchairs than others. Governor Ron DeSantis calls Florida “God’s waiting room” and travel in and out of South Florida at heavy leisure times is likely to see a lot of passenger assistance. The presence of wheelchairs alone doesn’t mean that someone is faking the need for service.
Moreover, more passengers getting assistance onto the aircraft than getting off doesn’t on its own mean that somebody is ‘faking it’. The long waits for assistance, making it difficult to get help, can mean choosing not to wait even when it would be better for someone to do so. Plus you’re going to want to get up and move around after sitting in a coach seat for the full flight.
Nonetheless a 15-to-1 ratio of passengers using wheelchairs to get onto a plane (and getting priority assistance) versus getting off (and having to wait for service) seems… suspicious?
Sometimes passengers even admit it. One man on TikTok shows how he fakes an injury to get priority screening from the TSA and then assistance through the airport.
And here’s a man who filmed himself pretending to have sprained his ankle at the Bodrum Airport. He saw huge lines and was worried he’d miss his flight, and wound up pushed in a wheelchair through the airport and to his seat. He was even given his own row on board so he could stretch out. After the flight – it was a miracle – he could walk!
Remember that wheelchair assistance can be both costly and in short supply, if you ask for wheelchair assistance when you don’t need it you’re taking away that help from someone else or making someone that does need it wait even longer. The head of London Heathrow airport even blamed problems there on passengers asking for wheelchair assistance when they don’t need it given the shortage of workers to help. That’s no ok.