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. Such people will not be allowed to be in exit seats and told they’ll be last to be helped off in an emergency. Also they’ll be told to wait and deplane last.

  2. As a disabled Veteran, United Airlines has always let me board first – so has Southwest. It’s much appreciated.

    But honestly, if I waited to board until the end I’d feel like an Admiral. Admirals are always last on, and first off. Well, 50/50 anyway (last on).

    My mother, who is 94, requests and uses a wheelchair when she flies. Needed? Not really. But toss in ANY luggage and yup, it’s necessary. Heck, ninety-four is a great age to be traveling. Think of how much you forget and how easy it is to simply rebook the same trek year after year after year . . .

  3. I used to feel the same resentment for these people . . . and then I suffered an injury that affected my own mobility and I came to realize that being able to walk the final 100m to your seat is not the same as walking a mile through an airport, and until you are in a fragile state, walking slowly, and unsteadily, you can’t possibly understand the risks of crowds of people walking briskly and carelessly through an airport bumping into you without any conception of how easy it is to accidentally push you over and ruin your trip and possibly the rest of your life.

    The solution for this – like the solution for service dogs – is that this should be a paid service, and not one subsidized by other passengers or taxpayers, so that only those who really need it will use it. But I think the blame for this problem is completely misplaced and that we’re scapegoating people for the sins of self-serving politicians virtue-signalling with other people’s money.

  4. @ Gary — The overarching problem is that out society seems to glorify dishonesty. Americans elect leaders who only open their mouths to lie and then worship them like idols. Our society has become disgusting. The long-term solution is that people should act honestly and teach their children to do the same.

  5. “It costs the airline between $30 and $35 each time a customer requests a wheelchair”

    Charge for it. Problem solved.

  6. @jake says:
    “Charge for it. Problem solved.”

    It’s incredible how this simple solution is the last one to be considered. If you subsidize something, demand will increase, and if you price a service at zero, expect there to be lots of demand by people who wouldn’t pay even marginal amounts. The real problem is that Americans need to feel virtuous, and feel terribly capitulating to reality and market forces which are no less universal than gravity. This inability to accept reality and the need to feel virtuous by avoiding it is really the biggest societal problem here . . .not the people accepting a free wheelchair. It’s like complaining about too many people taking the free samples at Costco.

  7. The problem is with the same entitled mentality as those with “service animals”, they want to cheat the system. How to monitor and enforce the boarding process will slow down boarding, for sure. The boarding pass has the seat/zone on it. When the pass is scanned and it’s not the passenger’s seat/zone..”Sorry, please board with your seat/zone.” ENFORCE overhead bin storage. One carry on and one fitting under the seat. The bin is for those in the seats directly below the bin. “Sorry, sir/ma’am/it, please put your bag in the proper bin.” This will require a bit more monitoring and might slow the boarding process which is already tight and pushes the flight attendant’s already tight time constraints. How to determine who needed a wheelchair/early boarding and then the same deplaning is a mystery to solve!

  8. The first to board must sit in the very last rows. For SWA that’s an easy fix. For other A/L, they just need to be able to reassign seats so that the first to board are the last to get off.

  9. I don’t often need assistance, but when I do, I do. I look healthy, but have several issues that aren’t visible.

    I carry my second handicap parking permit with me. If I’m ever challenged, I have it available to show. Granted, I shouldn’t have to, but I’m just as sick of people scamming the system and would have no problem with having to offer proof.

    As to the arrival miracles, please bear in mind that many small airports are easily navigated by someone who is disabled. They just can’t handle the long stretches in big airports.

    Southwest could solve this problem by simply assigning seats. Until they do that, they have no room to complain about the cost. They created the monster.

  10. Cant charge for it I believe by law, however they could charge say $100 each way and its Refunded if the person uses the wheel chair upon arrival. If they went on their merry way then they arent refunded

    Dont know too many people who will pay $100 each way to skip the lines and board early

    And now that they are using tablets to check the name it should be simple to implement.The outcome will be that those who honestly need it will see they will b e waiting alot less for the chair to arrive be it at curb side or plane side

  11. Ah yes, the unintended consequences of the ADA. If a system can be gamed you can be sure there will be enterprising individuals who will abuse it for their own desire. Basically it’s a matter of, “I got mine…screw you.”

  12. The incredible lack of human decency by most of the commenters here is amazing and disheartening. Charge for wheelchairs, sit in the rear of the aircraft so the privileged will not be disrupted by you, get on last and get off last, and the best one was in an emergency you will be helped last assuming I would imagine if you are still alive and able to help yourself once you get out.
    Nobody likes the scammers, most of all those who really need the wheelchairs. If airports were to adequately supply wheelchair service, chairs and Attendants, there would be less of a problem. Attendants are given a list of all wheelchair passengers arriving and they check the names so they would be able to supply the names of those running past them who boarded with a chair. Those are the ones to go after rather than the person who has all they can do to get from the door of the aircraft to a seat. Make real disabled people sit in the back and you can add 10 to 15 minutes to your boarding time and delays galore.
    Last point, those folks in wheelchairs you look down your nose at could be you someday, or your Mom or Dad or Spouse or Child. And guess what, they have feelings, lives and even connections to make. Quit being a jerk.

  13. On a recent flight to Dubai, there must have been 50+ wheelchairs lined up, each accompanied with spouses, sons/daughters, grandchildren, sisters, brothers, etc

    Followed by those with children who, again, boarded with an entourage.

    Held up boarding for everyone else by over 30 minutes.

    Some truly need help, others have found how to game the system. Allow ONLY 1 other family member to board with them. Set a cut off time for preboarding with kids.

    On airlines without set seating, set them in 1 location so they can be recognized and helped off in an.emergency.

    The ADA requires airlines to “assist” with boarding, not put them front and center beyond all else.

    A jerk is someone who doesn’t recognize the problem

  14. Put all disability boarders in the last rows with FA enforcement. It’s safer for them and speeds up deplaning.

  15. As airports have gotten larger, the walk from check-in to your gate and the distance between gates has greatly increased. At the same time, the proportion of the distance coverage by moving sidewalks and other passenger assistance rides has decreased. Many people who do not see the need for disability plates in their normal life are challenged by the distance they must walk when flying.

  16. I do not understand the law however why can’t every airline demand a doctors
    note on official letterhead In advance of travel that can be checked for handicap access
    If a person frequently travels have it on file in their account for a limited time
    I have canceled many a flight due to this sh#t show.thats obnoxious to watch with free for all of cheap people working the loophole
    Typically no reserved seat I won’t be flying that airline with their organized chaos unless the options are slim to get there nonstop

  17. *Every airline CEO echos privately what the Frontier boss said publicly.

    *It’s not about those with real need (so please calm down), it’s about people who do not need mobility assistance. For many, it’s about not wanting or being able to make navigation decisions, it’s about language, culture,. etc. Ask Emirates, ask Philippine, ask Air India. These are the 50-60+ flights.

    *Some travel agencies on the sub-continent book wheelchair services for customers without them even knowing it.

    *The Air Carrier Access Act only guarantees the service, it doesn’t prevent abuse. Fix that! No need to punish those in actual need. My guess is those that qualify would appreciate some order –
    – like carpools
    – like 10 items or less
    – like fare jumpers on transit
    – like etc

  18. If I were a real handicapped passenger, I’d feel embarrassed to be seen among the group of people who the other passengers understandably believe are full of cheaters.

  19. The problem with ADA is that it’s no longer a reasonable accommodation for those who require extra time or assistance, but a VIP list.

    Case in point: the number of people using motorized wheelchairs and scooters to “skip the line” at Disney grew to such a point that they finally instituted a system whereby people are pre-screened as to what assistance they require and how Disney can accommodate. The pre-registration would go a long way to avoiding this and is obviously ADA compliant (I’m sure Disney’s lawyers were all over it). Why can’t airlines do the same? https://disneyworld.disney.go.com/guest-services/disability-access-service/

  20. Just change the order. Load handicapped passengers last then miracles will happen much quicker.

  21. I’m for the Dr’s letterhead, that should put an end to these scofflaws, same for service animals too, seems like everyone has a excuse to bring their pet wherever they go.

  22. If you can’t charge for it bc of ADA, then internally designate certain rows for those that requested chairs, and force them to disembark LAST. Or go the other way and board everyone else first and then the wheelchairs.
    That will take care of everyone that doesn’t need it.

  23. Boarding plans is so poorly handled as it is, that I can’t object all that much to people’s gaming the system.
    It makes so much more sense to board planes from the rear rather than have those now boarding later make their way past seated passengers. But that’s what we must do.
    I’ve never understood why first-class passengers might prefer to sit in a plane and have those in economy class make their way rearward rather than sit is an area in the terminal reserved for first-class passengers and board after all the economy-class passengers have been seated. Frankly, the less time I spend aboard, the better.

  24. Arriving for a flight means checking in, going through security, waiting by the gate, lining up, going onto an airplane with people in front of and behind you who might stop while you are standing in an awkward position or might want to move past you.

    When getting off a plane, it means getting up when the path ahead of you is clear and walking to the airport exit or pickup area. That might take a few minutes, compared to a tiring process that may take an hour or more and ends with an awkward effort to get to your seat.

    I know that my my 90 year old father couldn’t endure the departure part of this, but he’d likely be able to get off the plane and get to the exit of a moderate sized airport.

    That doesn’t mean that everyone doing it is honest, but there’s no basis for saying that a person who needs a wheelchair for departure but not for arrival is faking it. That’s especially true when people are asked to arrive hours ahead of time.

  25. In my state,a physician must certify the disability for someone to get a handicapped parking sticker.

    Same should be required here.

    With that stayed,there are exceptional situations. I broke multiple ribs in another country and asked for wheel chair assistance. As proof,I had a copy of my x-rays and a doctor’s note if the airline needed it.

  26. How about this – if the problem is that the airports are too big and the area to cover is daunting, provide wheelchairs from the entrance to the gate. At that point, if someone says they still need help, let them board last.

  27. I’m more than happy to show my disabled parking placard when getting wheelchair service if that helps cut down on scammers. I need that chair because there’s no way I can walk an airport anymore.

    Keeping track of passengers who embark from a wheelchair and stroll off without one is some record keeping but can also allow the pre boarding premium to be applied retroactively.

  28. “…with his airline having to pay for the service unnecessarily…”

    The “airline” isn’t paying the cost, individuals are.

  29. Once again, while there are definitely scammers the fact that someone used a chair to board but not to leave isn’t proof they are scamming. I’m thinking of my MIL, there was a period she could handle the walk **at her pace**, couldn’t handle standing in line, couldn’t handle going through the metal detector (because you have to go through alone.)

    The problem is complex, the simple answers do not work.

  30. Dwondermeant : I agree completely with your statement. Require medical certification to get access to a wheelchair. Also start locking up wheelchairs at the airport and require a certified attendant to push you once documentation provided. People often use the wheelchairs to move their luggage and it as a stroller for they’re children.

  31. I saw the reverse yesterday on a FRA-DTW flight. 2 wheel chairs pax boarded at FRA and 13 needed chairs at DTW..The reason – they got special handling at customs!!

  32. Not everyone who needs a wheelchair to get thru the airport needs one to get on or off the plane. For the last half of 2023 I needed a wheelchair to get through the airports for the 50 plus flights I took. I was wheelchaired to and from the gates but I was able to get on and off with my cane and no assistance. I had both my knees replaced over the winter and still have some difficulty walking the mile or two across airports but I can walk the distance again so no more wheelchairs. I’ve been a SW A Listed flyer for 10 plus years and it does bother me when I see 20-40 people walking down the jetway with no obvious difficulty. I believe a lot of the issues would be eliminated if the airlines actually enforced the two carry on limit and the size of the carry ons. A carry on now seems to be limited to what you can physically carry on and force into the overhead bin. I travel across the country for my work, sometimes weeks on end, one or two checked bags, and I carry on a small backpack that fits under the seat that has my essential travel items.

  33. These are the same turds who stuff ill tempered yippy dogs into “service animal” vests purchased on Amazon to avoid paying the pet fee…

  34. Charge a deposit which is refunded after you are the last to deplane in a wheelchair. If you’ve been cured mid-flight, then losing the $50 should be well worth it.

  35. People with handicaps and mobility issues get tags for their vehicle, maybe they should have to have something similar to gain early boarding. Even people who’ve had surgery that causes temporary mobility issues can get a handicap tag for their car for a period of time.

  36. It’s not a matter of being a jerk it’s a tidal wave of wheel chairs which has only grown since the scammers multiplied. Same thing followed once “service” mutts were allowed on board.

  37. I fully support the need for wheel chair assistance for those who need it (like my wife did). The “Miracle Flights” is a main frustration but hard for airlines to “test” for need. However, there is a related problem that they can do something about and that is to limit the number of people who “accompany” the person in the wheelchair to ONE CAREGIVER. I have seen a “grandmother ” in a wheelchair going early boarding (on open seating Southwest) and seeing her accompanied by a family of 10 “caregivers” who all board before the other passengers.
    It would be a simple, enforceable requirement, that a person in a wheelchair has a maximum of one “caregiver” accompany them. This does not need any special identification etc, just a policy be put in place.

  38. I am an airline employee. This is a huge problem. We have joked for years about all of the inflight miracles. I have had passengers run past me to deplane after they were told to remain seated to wait for their wheelchairs. Shameful!

  39. No punishment is too harsh for a person who takes a wheelchair away from someone who needs it. Simple solution, just like the handicapped parking placards. What’s the issue?

  40. Some need help after the flight. Arriving at some horror like LHR or CDG half dead from hours of layovers and sitting up all night on an overnight flight to face standing in immigration lines, a wheelchair sounds like a godsend. I have not availed myself yet but at 75 with a handicap placard, I think I will this year. I’d be glad to upload my credential. Don’t see why that minimal level of control over misuse of wheelchairs can’t be part of the process of ordering one. For everybody else, charge a fee. I’d be glad to pay a fee if ADA allowed it, even if I qualify not to.

  41. I believe the solution would be to board wheelchair passengers LAST. It would also help the boarding process in general.

    Flight attendants are often still busy when boarding begins.

    Let those who don’t need help to quickly get on. Then at the end of boarding, more flight attendants will be available to assist those who need assistance. Boarding is completed faster… AND… People are less likely to abuse the wheelchair system

  42. I am 80 year old. Can walk with stick, but feel dizzy standing in a queue, especially security line. Why not make a charge for wheel chair assistance.

  43. Ok so once again the true disabled take the wrap for the ‘cheaters:. I won’t validate ANY of these responses but will say I’m disappointed in so many of you and wish only for karma. I do agree the cheaters make life more difficult for ALL people flying. To stop it anyone using wheelchair to get on plane must also use to.get off plane or they will be charged $100. This is easy to identify as wheelchair users are put into computer both at pick up and at destination. Oh and at least 50
    % of the time I am last off as I need to wait for the wheelchair. Have a wonderful day.

  44. No problem showing a placard. Wife cannot stand in an hour long tsa line so has to get a wheelchair to get to the gate a broken airports like IAD. Then, preboard without chair and hope that she doesn’t get trampled by the first wave of high status people. (Otherwise, we’re in the second batch of high status boarding so no incentive to preboard for bin space)

    In her case, never need a chair to get on the plane but airport insists on her meeting the chair on the jetway instead of her walking up the jetway and meeting at the gate. I guess that makes her the “anti-miracle”

    Airports can be a miserable mess for people with mobility issues. Chill out and let people use the adaptation that is appropriate to them.

  45. The “from Puerto Rico” picture is actually in Orlando.

    Anyways… to solve the disability fraud problem, it’s important to look at how widespread it is.
    It’s not just an airline problem, look what’s happening at Disney with the “Disability Access Service” line-jumping.
    The solution to disability fraud is either or both of the following.
    1. Allow requiring medical documentation but don’t make the process too difficult for those who really need it. (The airlines did this during Covid for face mask exemptions but many of them deliberately made the process as complex as possible which made traveling unnecessarily difficult for those who genuinely needed a face mask exemption.)
    2. Introduce penalties for making false claims of a disability. (not just bans, but legal consequences – disability fraud is a form of fraud and should be treated as such.)

  46. Perhaps it’s time for Frontier and Southwest to examine their boarding process (no assigned seats) and remove the incentive for faking wheelchair needs instead of dumping the burden on disabled people who may be temporarily disabled and unable to certify with a doctor.

    I’m disabled and typically travel business class. I started using my own motorized wheelchair after being left at the gate for over 30 minutes on arrival. How much of this is due to airports not being able to hire enough wheelchair attendants (because they don’t pay a living wage)? That problem was mentioned in other reports (for SFO, anyway).

    Disneyland is about to discover how treating disabled people (IMO) like liars and fraudsters is going to backfire. It wasn’t a problem until they created the incentives for fraud ($$tiered$$ line systems).

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