Outrage As Airline CEO Demands Tough Penalties For ‘Miracle Flight’ Scammers: Passengers Fake Disabilities For Airport Perks

The CEO of Frontier Airlines has condemned Jetbridge Jesus flights. Passengers board the aircraft needing wheelchair assistance, but the end of the flight they’ve been healed and can walk off the plane just fine on their own.

This is the phenomenon of passengers requesting wheelchair assistance to get airport priority – skipping lines, and boarding first.

  • It can be helpful in long security lines
  • But it is a far bigger issue on Southwest Airlines than legacy carriers since seating there is ‘first come, first served’ and means access to the best seats.
  • However on other airlines it at least means access to overhead bin space, rather than being forced to gate check a bag.

The problem – aside from the dishonesty of it – is that requesting wheelchair assistance when you do not need it limits access to wheelchairs for those who do. Passengers with a bona fide disability are forced to wait longer, and could even miss their flight, because the limited number of contract wheelchair attendants are busy assisting passengers who simply want to skip queues.

The CEO of Frontier spoke to industry leaders at the Wings Club in New York on Thursday where he declared “massive, rampant abuse of special services.”

“There are people using wheelchair assistance who don’t need it at all.” …
[H]e has seen some Frontier flights where 20 people were brought in wheelchairs at departure, with only three using them upon arrival.

“We are healing so many people,” he joked.

It costs the airline between $30 and $35 each time a customer requests a wheelchair, Biffle said, and abuse of the service leads to delays for travelers with a genuine need for assistance.

The famously cost-conscious Biffle is presumably more concerned with his airline having to pay for the service unnecessarily than with the fairness of it all and is calling for “the same penalty for abusing these services” as for “park[ing] in a handicapped space [where] they will tow your car and fine you” if you aren’t entitled to it.

(HT: @WandrMe)

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. I can see how charging for wheelchairs could be considered discriminatory towards those with genuine disabilities. I believe the solution for this (and service animals too) should be to require doctors’ notes to be granted a wheelchair or be allowed to bring a service animal onboard.

  2. I think that there are plenty of ways that would be ADA compliant and lessen the number of scammers using wheelchairs. One would be to charge a fee for the wheelchair and refund that fee at the next airport for those using a wheelchair to get around after getting off. Another way would be to have reserved seating spread around the cabin for the wheelchair passengers. They get the seat assignment as the have their boarding pass scanned.

  3. Super easy fix: Any early on passengers need to be last off due to their infirmities and inability to deal with the press of disembarkation. If people do not follow this rule, ban them from the airline for a decade. That will largely solve them problem in a matter of weeks.

  4. It’s so blatant now. 2 women strolled on my SW flight yesterday first before wheelchairs. Only visible sign of disability for these 2 was really bad plastic surgery. They sat in the 1st row and deplaned quickly.
    SW needs to get a grip on this.

  5. I counted 52 wheelchairs boarding a Qatar flight in Atlanta. 50 were Indians and none over 65 years old.

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