30 Passengers Use Wheelchairs To Get Airport Priority Boarding – On Just One Flight

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.

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.

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 InsideFlyer.com, 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. a JC and others saying handicapped should sit in back…..It is difficult to walk onto the plane, and walking to the back would be completely unreasonable. It is difficult enough to walk onto the plane. I have flown Southwest, United and American. All times, I was boarded in the first group and sat near the front. All times, I was the last to get off the plane, having to wait for the wheelchair assistance and my walker and sometimes my personal wheelchair too, that I had brought with me to be obtained from the gate check. Once, I had a seat that had extra leg room, which is needed with my condition. Being cramped and not able to move my legs is not good, though I had regular seats on the other flights. They were short flights, but it was still very tiring and challenging. Even waiting while sitting in a wheelchair is tiring. You can’t imagine the energy it takes to do even such basic things.

  2. Oh come on, you’ll be a boomer someday too. What happened to common curiosity? This younger generation are disrespectful and rude. Next time you see a person in a wheelchair lend a hand and ask if you can do anything for them. Everyone will board and unboard…have patience, better yet don’t fly.

  3. There is a simple solution…for those with TRUE handicap get a Dr’s note or a card (for those with long-term disability)! We have the blue cards for cars why not have something that you show at check in?! Having assigned seating at the back of the plane is cruel for those of us that can barely get to a seat at the front!!

  4. I know of a family that doesn’t require a wheel chair but use them just to get borded quicker… not fair for the ones that need them !

  5. I would be glad to trade good legs and a way to walk without using my two wheeler. And assistance with wheelchair when I my wife and I travel. She is 83 and I’m 77. It’s a damn shame these lazy inconsiderate people fake injuries or just assume people will be generous enough to give them the assistance to that they do not need. One of these days I hope these people will have to pay for their inconsiderate laziness by having to use these things as we handicap people do

  6. They will only hurt it for those of us that need it. I’m a double leg amputee, and the last time I flew received fantastic attention. I don’t like needing help and would love to be able to walk normally. I can walk short distances on prosthetics but airports are big and would be way too much. That last flight was from Peoria to Chicago. And once at O’Hara the pushed me all the way from the plane and helped me get into a taxi. It was SO appreciated.

  7. I saw this first hand in traveling between Albuquerque and California. A lady walked up to the podium, from outside the TSA checkpoint, ordered a wheelchair, they brought the chair, she sat down in it and was wheeled onto the plane after asking the attendant to allow her to get up and walk and he could carry her carry on items in the wheel chair. He said he couldn’t do that, so she sat back dowm in the chair. Meanwhile i’m standing in line after paying extra for business class after having one hip replaced (most recent), the need to have the other replaced due to arthritis and hip deteriation, I got angry because I saw right through the stunt and the atendents still had to put that woman on before I could board in position A1. I thought…Unbelievable, unfair, because I too could have used my hip as an excuse to use a wheelchair and get early boarding instead of paying extra for business class. We’ll see how it goes this time as I travel.

  8. Southwest Airlines Allows Handicapped on First and off First…
    Some makes it to baggage claim faster than Non Disabled People…Walking Off the Plane…

    Correct Policy to Deals with Dishonest People.
    Can’t have it both ways…
    Priority and “A” means Nothing .
    Pay to watch them get ahead of You (not fair)
    Limited When purchasing Tickets and Over Flows Need to Purchase (2) Seats…
    I’m tired of this Bad Behavior…
    Get A Doctors Permit and let the Airlines deal with it not Us…
    No you can not Move My Armrest…I paid for this Space.

    You have kids
    Pay for Priority Boarding…No you can not have my Seat I paid $40 Extra for it…

    Selfish People!
    Get a Airline that Works for Your Situation….

    I’m “70” can’t lift carry on over my head… So should I bring My Carry On to have someone else do it…
    Check that Crap In!
    People are just Self Entitlement and Don’t Give a Care for
    No-one Except “Themselves and Theirs …

    Enjoy Your Flight!

  9. At the age of 81and with a hip replacement and stenosis of the lower back was the 1st time I REQUESTED a wheelchair. The long walks down the corridors was no longer doable.

  10. we refer to the Baltimore to Ft Myers Southwest flights as the miracle cure flights. Everyone needs a wheelchair getting on but can sprint to luggage getting off. sad reflection on our society in general

  11. People who fake injuries to get through the airport make me sick! There are people who really need help, who cannot walk far, or at all, through the airport and on the plane. The selfish fakers make people in general, have less compassion and tolerance for the ones who really need it. Our society has gotten so sad, SMH.

  12. Hello friends,
    My husband and I travelled internationally 3 times in the last 6 moths for family commitments. Father is 104 and sick, passed away. Then other post passing ceremonies. I am 74 and husband 78. I have vertigo and husband has walking issues. He has a restricted walking distance of 300 ft. Carries a handicap ♿️ plate for parking. Outwardly we are healthy. We started requesting assistance starting last year. We had to wait for 45 min to 60 min to get assistance. Got tired of waiting and to avoid staring looks, we started walking slowly towards the destination. We have paid for every little thing to make our travel hazzle free.
    I have noticed the same thing like 20 to 30 wheel chairperson at the gate and gets embarrassed. Once we requested just one wheel chair for my husband and the assistance guy was running with my husband in the chair. I had to run behind the wheel chair in Paris.
    I like the idea of having a handicapped sticker number from the DOT to request wheel chair assistance.
    Once we got kicked out for sitting in a chair for handicapped. We sat there because there were no other seats available and was enduring crucial leg pain after walking long distance at the air port. Outwardly we look young and able.
    Defanitely something needs to be done world wide with airlines.
    We are reaching the times everybody predicted ” More oldies than we can handle “. We need more assistance with everything!

  13. @Mary – good thinking. Or some sort of advance documentation like the airlines and feds now require for service animals. The changes for service animals seems to have really cut down on the scammers, maybe somethign similar can help this situation.

  14. I’m in SE Asia this winter flying low cost carrier AirAsia between countries while sporting a broken foot and walking cast. Only 4 wheelchairs are allowed to be reserved each flight, it needs to be done at least 4 hours in advance and the cost is $15 per flight.

  15. I have often said, people who require assistance to get ON the plane, should be required to wait for assistance to get OFF. Anyone w a true need wouldn’t be insulted as they have to wait anyway and those who used it just to pre-broad would be inconvenienced and might decide waiting to get on is worth not having to wait to get off.

  16. So true. We pay xtra and you have people take advantage and claim they need wheelchairs just to move ahead. I have a co worker that said she does it just so she don’t have to wait and told me I should do the same. I would never. These people that need wheel chairs should be first on and last off!!! My daughter is 40 and has back issues, was dizzy and her 3 year old was crying for her to pick her up. She was traveling alone..and thought she was gona pass out but still wouldn’t get a wheel chair. And getting off she waited until everyone got off first. This world we live in is insane. Selfish people. Remember ….CARMA is a bitch!

  17. I am mostly fine but am mentally ill. I have a lot of problems figuring out things and with high anxiety at airports. I’m not so disabled that I can’t fly by myself but I am to go through the whole procedure. If everything goes with no problems I might be okay but I never know when it’s going to b a bad day or not. I don’t know if there is going to b problems with the flight. I don’t know if I will also b having physical problems besides. I’ve had two knee replacements back surgeries and other chronic physical ailments. On a great day I might b able to do it by myself but I never know how I will b and I don’t know what’s going to happen with the flight. I’ve missed my flight and had to b up in a hotel for a few hours and I could barely handle it. Couldn’t sleep trying to get back to the airport was too much for me. It was a horrible, horrible experience. People with severe mental illness ie. people who are disabled because of it don’t always look like they are mentally ill. Sometimes we need the extra help too. There is a category for extra help on southwest for the mentally ill too. U don’t want to see me have a manic or nervous breakdown during my airport experience believe me. People like me need help too. U can’t see it when looking at me.

  18. My husband is (noticeably) handicapped. In order to fly, he has to use wheelchair transportation through the airport. The last.time we flew together getring a wheelchair at.Chicago O’Hare was next to impossible and we barely made our flight. I would absolutely LOVE it if the airlines insisted.on a handicapped ‘ID’. But even with that, there still will be lazy, inconsiderate, self-entitled people who will abuse the system.

  19. My parents did not raise me to take advantage of others. I do not understand how the dishonest “wheelchair fakers” can be so selfish and inconsiderate. I also don’t understand why the airlines put up with this, you have to be loosing passengers to other airlines. Can airlines require a card or note from the passenger’s health care provider stating the passenger needs a wheelchair? Can it be made part of purchasing a ticket?
    If the passenger says he needs a wheelchair, can it be verified with a phone call? This would not cost anymore than an attendant wheeling a “faker” all over the airport. If you have verification for service animals there should be a way to protect the truly handicapped. If you park in a handicap space, you are suppose to have a visible permit.

    Is this a sign of changing times or a change in early childhood discipline ? I think the latter. Maybe, when these child-like people grow up and actually require a wheelchair that is non-available, they will remember their selfish acts of depriving others that have a true need.

    I will admit I am not a frequent-flyer or handicapped, but news like this really makes my blood boil.

  20. The passenger Who didn’t use the assistance on the return should be billed for the abuse and to send a message that it’s not acceptable and he/she wouldn’t try that’s again.

  21. Simply board the “A” group first. I have seen this. Sorry for the real folks who actually need it.

  22. Oh my Lord! I just started doing this because I am 77 years old and could no longer find myself standing in long lines or walking long distances through the terminal. It took me a very long time to realize that I needed help and my sister told me about wheelchair assistance. Now, after just a couple times I’m being faced with scrutiny for my age and inability after all these years. Give us a break!!!

  23. Worse is when they have three or more family members that get on with them ahead of everyone else!

  24. They should have something from the dr. Saying they need assistance. Too many people just think of they are a senior citizen they are entitled to be chauffeured. Ive seen way too many healthy people getting up and walking just fine after getting out of the airport. Also, peopke on wheel chairs are allowed to bring company with them and those people board earlier with them. They are not doing anything to help their person…because the airline is doing that. Makes no sense to me. What’s fair is fair… it should be a fair process if you are paying a hell of a lot more money to board the same plane.

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  26. For the 30 people who didn’t need assistance getting off, they should be barred from flying Southwest for a year.

  27. My 2 year old son is disabled we use his stroller as a wheel chair. I have avoided flights this far. There is so much unknown as a parent. I would like to be seated together and keep him in his stroller where he feels most safe and secure. Making parents pay more to sit next to children should be illegal. I am not made of money.

  28. On a flight from Columbia to Florida about 30 elderly in wheelchairs boarded, they needed assistance. As a former aircrew member I’m concerned about what happens in an emergency and how they’ll evacuate the plane. Unnecessarily dangerous.

  29. In July last year, I started on PARKINSON DISEASE TREATMENT PROTOCOL from Health Natural Centre (ww w. healthnaturalcentre. org). One month into the treatment, I made a significant recovery. After I completed the recommended treatment, almost all my symptoms were gone, great improvement with my movement and balance. Its been a year, life has been amazing

  30. It isn’t fair…for years people tell me that they fake Injuries just to get on the plane 1st and to get off 1st and they’re out of the airport before I am there should be some kind of Protocol. Otherwise this will continue to get Messier and Messier the airlines need to make a change

  31. How do hearing and vision impared people get help….SW airline I board as preboard, as I’ve missed gate changes, and missed flights because I can’t hear, and no solution to fix, brain tumor, can’t hear at all…., I don’t need a wheelchair, and fly SW because I can board early…other airlines, don’t know if I’d get on flight….

  32. I have arthritis and am overweight and I cannot walk through the airport so I get a wheelchair. However, I am capable and do leave the wheelchair at the gate and board where I am assigned on Sw.

  33. I’m not surprised that Heathrow was specifically mentioned in this article. I once broke my ankle on vacation and flew home from Heathrow. My traveling companion went in search of a wheelchair and was told that they were all in use. I was using some very uncomfortable crutches and had to stand in line at the the ticket counter and make my way through security to my very distant gate on my own. My traveling companions were burdened with my carry on bags as well as their own. This was back in 2008, so I think the problem was that Heathrow didn’t have enough wheelchairs, not that able people were using them.

  34. We should docx those that use the airport wheelchairs for their own benefit.. Perhaps we should start a non profit organization called Stop Airport Wheelchair Abuse. Some thing like the Poverty Law Center.

  35. I traveled from Frankfort Airport to DIA last fall and needed wheelchair assistance due to a knee surgery. Those assistants were great especially the German young man and the Hispanic young woman. It restored my faith in our youngsters. So carring and aware of the pitfalls to get thru the security posts. Why don’t the CEOs of these airlines do their management jobs and hire more staff to assist all passengers and create more available flights. The staff and passengers are the victims, not the cause of our system.

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