There’s No One At The Airport To Help Passengers In Wheelchairs, And There’s Two Reasons For The Crisis

TV news reporter James Rosen – who spied on by the Obama administration and who left Fox News 3 years ago in the midst of sexual harassment allegations – recently took to twitter to complain about being unable to get wheelchair assistance from American Airlines at Washington National airport for his wife.

A tipster shares that Prospect Airport Services at Charlotte’s airport went from “300 passenger service agents to 30 because of low wages. They’re offering a signing bonus, but the $9 pay isn’t attracting qualified candidates.” That may provide some insight into challenges at Washington’s National airport, and all over the country.

The equivalent average (pre-tax) wage in North Carolina paid out by unemployment is higher than what’s being offered here (in many states the gap would be much higher). In California it’s apparently tough for restaurants to find dishwashers at $20 an hour. That’s not just because of competition from unemployment, though, parents with children have found it difficult to work where schools have been closed (at least at wages that don’t also allow for covering childcare, whose cost is also up in some cases).

For folks who help pushing wheelchairs, $9 isn’t the true wage. That amount needs to include tips, though I’m not sure this is something that’s well-marketed to potential candidates.

This is presumably a short-term situation, since both pandemic unemployment bonuses and closed schools will be done by September. Although it’s unclear what sort of lasting effects there will be from people being hired now at higher-than-normal wages (which tend to be sticky downward).

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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. Maybe pay more than $9 an hour for a manual labor job involving pushing (frequently) overweight Americans across the airport. Doubt tipping adds much to their salary.

  2. Air France at CDG told me they don’t offer the service, and this was pre-covid. That said, people at CDG are famously liars, so who knows.

  3. When unemployment pays more people choose not to work. Super simple. Idont blame people for taking advantage of the governments misguided boost ABOVE what they made by actually working.

  4. Most people will not be concerned about this…until it impacts them because they have a surprise need for assistance. These helpers are vital and should be compensated adequately. You get what you pay for and apparently whether the airport or airlines paying, it’s not a priority. Maybe they should offer it as an unpaid volunteer opportunity with a stipend for food or drink to restore energy expended.

  5. If you pay a pauper’s salary, why should one work? Shame on the employer for trying to exploit the employee with insane low wages.

  6. I couldn’t get a wheelchair in Clt on Friday night, knee replacement, I ended walking and hanging on the wall to get to gate. Prospect couldn’t find anyone and AA could care a less

  7. These services are required, and while Trump’s DOT might look the other way hopefully a blue DOT will not stand for this. If they have to pay these employees $25 an hour then offer the positions for $25 an hour. There have also been complaints in the disability community regarding these employees not being qualified so that makes sense with the $9 wage,.

    If DOT starts heavily fining carriers, they will work out a solution.

    The carriers are ultimately responsible for special assistance accommodations under the ACAA.

    They do not have to contract out these services, they just elect to do that. They are fully responsible for the actions or inactions of their contractors.

    Maybe in the case of AA, they could bring back some of the management employees they let go to perform these functions if their contractor cannot keep up.

    Also they could incentivize college students to do the job with a basic wage supplimented by some kind of temporary travel benefit. Maybe if you work for the summer, you could get 2 positive space passes on AA as an incentive, and 5 standby passes for weekend jaunts.

    There are plenty of solutions to solve these issues, but people are just too ignorant and callus to do what needs to be done to solve the problem.

    The problems are always ignorance and callusness as opposed to something that cannot be solved for.

    I was able to come up with this solution in under 5 minutes!

  8. I flew through CLT yesterday and overhead a a woman behind me traveling with her elderly parents saying they had missed their original connection because they had to wait more than half an hour for a wheel chair to arrive for her 89-year-old father. A 50 minute connection became a 4+ hour connection after the missed flight.

    Whatever the reason behind it is, it’s not good business.

  9. You might want to review the replies to the tweet complaining about being unable to find dishwashers even at $20/hour. Apparently the job postings from the restaurant group indicated a lower salary, even among positions that are generally above dishwasher.

  10. This is such a shame. Why would folks not want these jobs that pay low wages when part of the job is apparently to frequently sit on ones butt in the wheelchair as far away from the gate as possible and sleep, surf, or just chat. These folks need to be paid more to sleep for crying out loud and I agree, hopefully the blue blah will pay people more to do less or, hopefully, nothing at all. That’s the America dream. Don’t work, get ahead.

  11. The Trump DOT most certainly DID fine airlines for not providing wheelchair service.
    And Biden won’t admit that endless unemployment compensation for everyone IS the reason that restaurants can’t get servers and service levels fall at every other type of business.
    Businesses will figure out how to adapt and it will mean jobs will be eliminated long-term as “self-service” options grow.
    Since most airlines won’t let you push a wheelchair up or down a jetway, they need to have people there to at least get you up to the concourse.

  12. Counting on tips for the wages of the wheelchair pushers is counting on too much. The wheelchair service providers (as in the people who push the wheelchairs) should not have to depend on tipping for their income; they should have predictability of income at a sustainable income level without having to count on getting lucky with tips.

    The disabled are already under greater than average financial stress because of the costs that arise from being disabled. And yet you want disabled travelers to even more directly pay the wheelchair pushers because you don’t want to have taxes being used to take care of providing these services?

    You know what’s cheap? Being super generous toward corporations and the wealthy. What’s also super cheap is sprinkling money around by tipping while opposing livable wages where workers aren’t dependent upon tips to just get by in life.

  13. I know of someone getting the equivalent of $14/hour from unemployment compensation with no requirement to look for work because of temporary pandemic rules. So that household is getting about $55,000 per year for staying home. Under Trump until fall 2020, they were getting unemployment at a rate of $85,000 per year (2 people).

    The couple is planning to look for work when the higher benefits expire in September and say, with some justification, that working now just adds to the pandemic. With them staying at home, the risk of Covid-19 to them is very low. I do not blame them at all.

  14. It’s not actually a new pandemic development. My many experiences with Charlotte airport over many years were always abysmal. Although I always notified them of wheelchair help needed as I was supposed to when I purchased a ticket, it was never forthcoming. In one incident, someone brought a wheelchair and parked me immediately after getting off the flight beside the nearest far wall. He then said somebody else would come help me in a minute because it wasn’t his job. I waited for near a half hour and nobody came. I Very nearly missed my connection since I had to go it alone. Another time the pilot said they couldn’t get to the gate and everyone would have to depart on the tarmac. Again, nobody showed up. Finally a baggage handler got help for me. These are but two incidences of the terrible services at Charlotte. By comparison, Indianapolis had the most fantastic people who went over and above consistently. Lack of decent service is nothing new at some airports. Newark was also absolutely horrible. Doubtful the pandemic has improved any of the bad airports.

  15. What is preventing airline employees providing a service they are legally required to do for passengers? If that requires staffing extra mainline or regional employees, so be it. At many outstations airline employees provide this service with no issue.

  16. The simple solution is for wheelchair pushers to be paid by those wanting and using them. If you need help, pay for it. I can walk 15-30 minutes or take an Uber. If I take an Uber, I makes sense that I have to pay for it. It’s illogical why airports would offer free wheel chair assistance in the past. Obviously pay needs to be reflective of the work and $9 isn’t cutting it.

    Unemployment, welfare (where a disproportionate amount are drug addicts/thugs/alcoholics/welfare queens/welfare babies created for a check/food stamps, section 8/etc. shows us why we (conservatives/libertarians) are much better off with a universal basic of income for every citizen 18 and over. It would eliminate all these welfare programs and reduce bureaucracy. It would reduce government power and make it smaller. It would incentivize people to work because no one will lose benefits by working. It would also eliminate welfare babies being created because parents would receive no more money for choosing to have kids than they would without. $1200 a month for 250 million citizens over 18 is $3 trillion a year. Considering the government spent $10 trillion with little money going to stimulus and with $45 million going to the Kennedy center and $500 million going to Sudan, it is doable. Right now only a select few receive government benefits. UBI means all receive and all benefit. No longer would just disproportionately ………….. get welfare.

  17. Here’s a simple solution if the problem is that people don’t want to work for poverty wages: pay more. It’s been shown that prices will only go up marginally and keep the same fat profit margins that executives take the bank.

    Also, the US government has bailed out the airlines with billions of dollars in free cash. I think they can afford it (particularly if your analysis about how most of it went to support share values is true).

  18. @Jackson Waterson,
    People do not have to pay for wheelchair service or other assistance, because it is a mandatory accommodation under the Air Carrier Access Act. The ACAA is the ADA of the sky. Your proposal to charge people with disabilities for wheelchair assistance would disproportionally disenfranchise people with disabilities with lower incomes. Charging would likely make travel not possible for people with disabilities with lower incomes. Where as people without disabilities with the same low incomes would be able to travel.

    The goal of disability civil rights laws like the ADA and ACAA is to try to level the playing field. It should not cost more because you have a disability.

    I think there needs to be much more rigorous and robust enforcement of disability civil rights laws like the ACAA and ADA. We can see from the original post that multiple administrations DOTs are not doing there job to enforce the ACAA. Based on the longstanding complaints about CLT and the pandemic era complaints. Likely not just CLT or just AA.

    If DOT had a process where they could revoke a carriers operating authority for these violations, the carriers would get good and creative at solving these problems.

    How much does it really affect AA if DOT fines them say $50,000, or $250,000.

    If they fine them $7 to $15 million that might really hit the bottom line harder!

    I think much of the fines should also go to the victims rather than the UYS treasury.

    If AA gets a $30,000 fine every 3 years, that is likely not enough of an incentive for them to fix there systemic problems. But if they get 1 or a series of $15 million fines or threats to stop their operations, then they would seriously be incentivized to solve these problems.

    There are solutions to all these problems, the carriers again are just to cheap to do it.

    I do think your flat pay out idea is interesting, a sort of universal income.

  19. Many government fines including to airlines regarding providing wheelchair service go to mandatory investments in improving the service. That is part of why you see electronic tablets with passenger names on them on the jetway, wheelchair agents “tagging” a sensor at the gate when they arrive at the gate for a pickup and then at the arrival gate etc.
    It is costly to provide wheelchair service considering the size of many modern airports which can involve a 30 minute transfer including time for someone to stop at a bathroom and potentially stop at a restaurant.
    Wayfinding technology exists within buildings. It is not a stretch to think that airlines can develop automated wheelchair transfer systems that will take you directly from one gate to another, eliminating jobs. Restaurants are already experimenting with robot servers while grocery stores are using robots for grocery delivery. Tips to wheelchair pushers are the only way to help keep the financial burden on the user of the service and not the provider. No one will tip a robot.
    Excessive government aid to low intelligence jobs will distort the marketplace long enough to lead to automated solutions, costing jobs in the long-term. When there is a segment of society that cannot or will not obtain the skills to move out of that segment, mandating higher costs to a company might not be best solution.

  20. “These services are required, and while Trump’s DOT might look the other way hopefully a blue DOT will not stand for this.”

    Yes they are required. And I know from firsthand experience Trump’s DOT did not look the other way. Is there every a point where those of you with TDS finally let it go?

  21. @yeppers – you must be fun at parties. Don’t work and get rich is the American dream? What on earth are you talking about? I know no one who’s working poor getting rich. I do know a number of those, however, through corporate greed and loopholes and tax evasion who have never “worked” or been successful who are rich from daddies money. Trump comes to mind.

  22. I had to use a wheel chair twice and I tipped very well. An extra benefit was that my helper took me up to the head of very long TSA lines each time.

  23. I’m sorry but anyone who requires a wheelchair exclusively for travel (IE not everyday life unlike a functioning wheelchair bound person) should not be be traveling alone. It would be all well and good if we could rely upon the airlines or airports for this, but I’m sure we can all agree that is a pipe dream. Don’t abandon your relative to travel alone and then complain about their rough experience.

  24. You can buy a self driving tesla for the annual cost of one wheelchair pusher. And the robot will work 24/7/365 without going on strike or suing anyone ! Maybe someone could invent a self driving airport wheelchair?

  25. Mark G. Wheelchair bound people must have family? And they must be dependent on that family? Have you never heard of someone who has no living or local family?

  26. I live in Charlotte. Every night, the local news has stories that restaurants and service industry employers can’t find the staff they need. Walmart, Target, Starbucks, Amazon and many fast food chains now pay above minimum wage now and offer juicy sign up bonuses. People that want to work go to work there as it gives them closer to a living wage. Charlotte’s school system has the same problem with not being able to find school bus drivers because the pay is so much lower than other options. It is not that the majority just sit at home using welfare. They are working where they can earn a better salary. Or they wait for schools and/or child care to re-open so they can actually go to work.

  27. Who said California schools will all be open in September? Never underestimate the teachers unions. If I recall, the LA teachers union wanted subsidized childcare for themselves before they return to work . . . because childcare is too much of a burden when the schools are closed because the same union won’t return to work . . .

  28. And I am banking on massive inflation as the private sector increases wages to compete against doing nothing.

  29. “They’re offering a signing bonus, but the $9 pay isn’t attracting qualified candidates.”

    Apparently the hiring managers in Crackerlandia need to up starting salaries, but old habits die hard

  30. If people are going to get government handouts ..there is NO incentive to work!!! and if the blue leaders keep it up we will be a total welfare state… just like they want…

  31. What if they paid $50 an hour for a wheelchair pusher, don’t you think then they would be able to fill the positions without issue? Also if the government outlawed contractors or if the airlines just hired own people that would be a bonus. These contractors do not get the lucrative flight benefits of working for an airline directly. If the wheelchair pusher job also included full flight benefits, like a gate agent gets, then perhaps that would be another incentive that the employer could offer to on-board employees. The self-driving wheelchair may be a good idea in theory, but it has to navigate through and around people in the airport. It might be ok for long distances but that last few feet would be problematic. Also how would it help people with bags or help them in and out of the chair.

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