Lufthansa Denies Boarding To Congressman Because Of His Wheelchair

It’s been quite a year for Lufthansa. They banned Jews from travel in the spring and now they’ve barred a U.S. congressman because of his wheelchair. And any airline knows don’t cross Congress.

Rep. Jim Langevin (D-RI) planned to travel to Italy in August. He was visiting military bases, and the Defense Department takes good care of members on these junkets. They called Lufthansa in advance “to make sure his power wheelchair would be permitted on the flight.”

  • Airlines generally don’t allow lithium ion batteries to be checked, because of fire risk
  • But they accept wheelchairs with these batteries – the usual advice is to check with the airline about the specific battery in advance, which was done here

    Aviation rules require that batteries attached to wheelchairs in the cargo hold be protected with a case or covering. Under certain conditions, batteries may need to be removed and placed in carry-on luggage, as long as they are under a specified energy limit.

The quadriplegic congressman’s wheelchair was refused at the check-in counter at Boston Logan airport. Now, he has a lot more juice than the rest of us. He “put the wheelchair’s inventor on the phone with a supervisor to explain why the chair was safe,” but Lufthansa still wouldn’t budge.

According to the airline they will review guidelines and better train employees.

At times, there have been challenges when it comes to customers traveling with lithium batteries, as there are complex and detailed rules and regulations related to this. We apologize for the error made due to the misinterpretation of the technical guidelines.

A congressional staffer brought an older wheelchair without lithium ion batteries to the airport, and Lufthansa moved the passenger to a later flight the same day.

Members of Congress have numerous privileges. During ‘Project Journey’ construction at Washington National airport they actually lost their special VIP parking lot – but were nonetheless provided free parking in regular garages. Delta, among others, has long given elite status to favored politicians. Ted Kennedy once ‘saved two jobs’ — the jobs of the special services reps at US Airways who took care of him during his travels, when the airline was looking to make significant cutbacks after 9/11.

But they privilege has its limits, and that limit is Lufthansa.

(HT: Paul H)

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. i dont get it. do you think congressmen should be able to bring large quantities of highly reactive metals that can on occasion spontaneously combust and when they do they are very difficult to extinguish (as an example, putting water on a lithium fire will make it explode). there is a reason why there is a size limit to the batteries you can have on an airliner. They have kits to help extinguish a batter fire on board. and if the battery is too big the kit wont work. You should be praising the airlines to sticking to a smart, common sense rule.

  2. I thought US Government employees were instructed to fly US flag carriers if the Government pays for the ticket? Or, does a Congressman does not view himself a Government employee? Or, did he pay for this ticket himself?

  3. @ Ken

    Because some people are able to focus on the person and not the wheelchair.

    Because some people understand that a physical disability does not stop the person being able or brilliant – think POTUS FDR and Prof Stephen Hawking.

    Because some people realise that there are dozens of examples of US politicians who are or have been disabled (not to mention those from other countries) for a variety of reasons, including accidents, war service and disease:

    Because some people will stand up to the prejudice exhibited by the ignorant.

  4. @stan – certain wheelchair lithium batteries are certified for air travel and come with a certification that states they are in compliance with IATA rules. Nonetheless many agents don’t care and just say no.

    @ken – why would being in a wheelchair affect your decision on who to vote for?

  5. @thejetsfan

    this was a flight leaving boston, so federal law trumps iata.

    batteries are limited to 150 watt hours. this is quite small. a large power bank to charge your phone sort of small. Certainly smaller than the batteries in a powered wheelchair.

  6. I guess falsely claiming that Lufthansa “banned Jews from travel in the spring” is not anti Semitic because it is a slur on German people, not Jews, right?

  7. The ticket might have been booked as a UA codeshare. I travel frequently for the USG and often never set foot on an American carrier, even though they sell us the ticket.

  8. @Thing 1 he was not a better person. He did NOTHING while in congress for years. He used the fact that he got shot with a gun in an “accident” as a reason why he should get elected and in every opinion he had. Look at his record. This is just another traveler being a Karen.

    FYI This is his last term. He is stepped down and will not run for office this year. So long .

  9. For clarity, the question posed by @Ken was “why would anyone vote for a person in a wheelchair?” My answer, based on the assumption Ken would not vote for any person (not a specific individual) in a wheelchair was that one might vote for a person (not a specific individual) in a wheelchair because they (the person voting for a non-specific individual in a wheelchair) are a better person than Ken.

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