Trend? People Request Wheelchair Assistance for Airport Priority When They’re Just Fine

Thanks to a reader, with apologies I’m no longer certain who, CBS ran a story on people using wheelchairs to get priority access at airports — even when they don’t need assistance.

If you need assistance contact your airline in advance and they’ll arrange for a wheelchair. There’s officially no cost for the service although in most U.S. airports the people pushing are paid based on an assumption that they’ll be receiving tips, although in many cases they aren’t allowed to solicit tips. I actually don’t know the right amount to tip, and I’m interested in feedback here. I guess $5 is appropriate.

There are three potential benefits I see to this strategy, all involve boarding the aircraft early.

  • Better seating on Southwest. This matters most with Southwest, you’re going to get a better deal tipping a wheelchair attendant than buying Early Bird Check-in in order to get a better seat.

  • Access to overhead bin space. If you’ve got a late boarding group there may not be overhead bin space. But board with a wheelchair and you go on early, bin space is yours.

  • Free carry on with a basic economy fare. This one’s more speculative, but if you need priority boarding assistance you aren’t in the last boarding group, and the full-sized carry on ban (disappearing next month on American, still in place with United, on the cheapest tickets) is enforced by boarding group. Does anyone have experience with this, it’s not something I’ve paid attention to, but presumably a customer on a basic economy fare who shows up needing assistance would get a carry on despite their fare.

Some would see a benefit to skipping a check-in queue or security, but waiting in those lines is outside my experience – if you’re savvy enough to ask for a wheelchair you are savvy enough to get PreCheck and check-in online and do bag drop.

Last summer I fractured a bone in my foot while traveling. Then I walked across the Dallas Fort-Worth airport on it. That wasn’t smart. A few days later I had to be up in the air again, and I requested a wheelchair meet me in Atlanta. I was flying Delta and connecting from the end of the T concourse to the opposite end of B, and I don’t think I could have walked it.

I didn’t need a wheelchair onto the plane in Austin, so I was using the opposite of this strategy. Delta didn’t have a way of requesting the service in Atlanta but not on my arrival in DC. They told me “just walk past the person waiting for you if you don’t need them.” I couldn’t quite do that, I tipped them anyway and told them I was fine to walk. Being assigned to me meant losing out on helping someone else that likely would have tipped.

There’s certainly no checking whether or not you need assistance when assigning you a wheelchair. And showing up in a wheelchair on its own validates your request or need for extra time boarding.

Do you see any other benefits to wheelchair use for airport priority besides getting on the plane early for overhead bin space and on Southwest for a better seat?

And how do you feel about people who do this? It feels instinctively wrong, although I’m not sure I am aware of a rash of people being denied wheelchair assistance because of too much ‘illegitimate’ demand.

  • If enough people did it that would either cause waits for assistance or a need for more contract workers and wheelchairs, which would drive up airline costs that would ultimately affect levels of service or price.
  • If everyone at the gate showed up needing early boarding it would defeat the purpose of early boarding (‘if everyone gets early boarding then no one does’).

Have you ever done this? Would you admit it if you had?

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 am 66 years old and I need a wheelchair. I have a bone disease that is not visible unless you look at my spine on an x ray. As I have gotten worse one of the reasons I began using a wheelchair was that people rushing to get seated would knock me over. One trip recently, I got knocked over in the aisle by someone dragging a large roller bag and it broke my hip. I too watch people bring their entire family onboard because of language problems. SW I think ,it is because they want their preferred seat or overhead bin space. (I always pay for my forward seat on SW ) I overtip the wheelchair attendants, they are usually very nice and remember me. Too many people are “gaming the system” . I think unless the airlines do something, it won’t change. The jerks make it bad for all of us.

  2. It’s one thing for a family member to need a wheelchair but do the 9 others traveling with them need to get on with the wheelchair user??? The other thing i see if they may need a WC to get on but they will jump over you to get off!!!

  3. My partner had Polio as a young child (5-months old) and for the first year or two after we met flat out refused to request “special/disabled services” assistance to deal with long lines at airports, and especially to clear security, or of course, the deal with last minute gate changes – until an incident at JFK when it took more than one hour (acutally close to 90 mins) of slowly snaking through the line resulted in him being bedridden for the entire trip in searing pain, followed by several weeks of a particularly intense and nasty flare up of pain in the leg that was most impacted by this insidious disease.

    He now travels with a 2018 doctor’s certification/verification of his permanently reduced mobility arising from Polio, along with his government issued disabled person’s parking permit in the event there is any doubt of his reduced mobility by either other passengers (or airline employees even though Federal regulations specifically stipulate he is not obligated to furnish proof of his disability to receive assistance at the airport when he travels).

    And yet still, and even despite it being manifestly clear in person that he has reduced/impaired mobility, very often he experiences lengthy delays waiting for wheelchairs and/or wheelchair attendants to get to the gate after arriving at the airport; abandonment at gates either at time of boarding, but really much worse, when there’s a last minute gate change and the new gate is at the opposite end of the terminal; or most frequent of all, attendants and wheelchairs that simply are never provided on the arrivals end of a flight, as happened late last year for a connection at BWI on Southwest where the arriving flight was at a distant gate on the C concourse, and the connecting flight far away on the B concourse, where he, at at least four other reduced mobility passengers were left in the lurch so long, the entire crew was ready to turn off the lights on the plane for the night, close the door, and go to their hotel (or homes) it was THAT long when even then, nary a wheelchair, let alone a single accompanying attendant had shown up to assist him, and the others, on our flight.

    Finally, the captain intervened, rounded up the needed wheelchairs, and wheeled my partner up the jetbridge and into the terminal, where I took over for the rest of the fairly long distance between concourses at BWI that night.

    And we were hardly the only pair of passengers pushing other passengers seated in wheelchairs at BWI that night.

    To say that it was shameful, and hardly Southwest’s finest hour, is an understatement.

    It’s also hardly the only incident where he experienced something like this, either traveling alone, where one time the wait for a wheelchair and attendant at JFK Terminal 4 for a business trip on Delta to LAX was so long, he called in a panic after it was clear he would miss his flight having not yet cleared security and then dealing with the half mile long (or more) distance to the high 30s and higher B gates there.

    In the end, it all worked out after I called Delta’s disability services department, and they intervened on his behalf to ensure he didn’t get left behind.

    But the point is this: be it greedy and neglectful airlines who resent not being able to levy an additional fee to assist disabled passengers (something they’re now actually seeking to overturn and actually do in their effort to exploit the nation’s current Useful Idiot in Chief and his mostly incompetent cabinet secretaries he appointed in his misinformed and misguided attempts to destroy our country) or selfish, shameless, insensitive passengers hoping to “game the system”, both of whom are equally vile, despicable and should be viewed with all due contempt for their arrogance, callousness and immorality, it simply is unfair to push aside the needs of those who either out of age, reduced mobility, or an actual medically documentable need that’s not readily apparent to the naked eye, be it by airlines who are seeking to further profit by expanding the “options” offered as ancillary fees, or those whom feel a special entitlement to fake a disability to escape standing in lines or paying an additional fee to use a priority lane or earlier boarding group.

    Well deserved shame on both people, and airlines, that fail to recognize that what’s inconvenient for most to deal with when they travel, is so much more so for those who face challenges most never have to deal with.

    Trust me, I know the difference, too, as my partner always teases me when I fly alone that I need to remember that it’ll be back to standing in many long lines, and boarding in group three or four for me on those trips if no upgrades are to be had on those trips!

  4. I am 72, a former college varsity athlete abd told I do not look my age. However, I had both knees replaced 3 years ago, have spinal stenosis, a heart stent, and medical cards
    Proving my inability to walk more than 50 yards without great difficulty. At 6’4”, I then have to contort myself to attempt to squeeze into seat spaces made for people who are 4’6”. Nobody has ever asked me yet, but I can show them by 7 inch knee scars if they need proof beyond my wallet scars. It is embarrassing to need wheel chair assistance to get to and from gates, and I tip the attendants well. I would much prefer to walk and pull my carry on bag, which includes my C-pap machine, and to take my turn getting into my seat than to know I am getting some stares. But, the reality is my new knees still cause me pain, as does my back. Believe me, I would trade any boarding or seating considerations I MAY receive on occasion for the pain I deal with much of the time just living my ordinary life. I do not doubt there are a very few people who may try to game the system, but they have to go through alot of hassle to do it, and it does cost them some money to do it if they reasonably tip the attendants..

  5. I’ve traveled a LOT by air during my career and have never seen this “miracle” phenomenon reported here. Perhaps I’m an exception.

    Starting a couple of years ago, I’ve not been able to walk from check-in to the gate and from the aircraft through luggage claim to the curb, so I request wheelchair assistance. But I can walk short distances, i.e. from the gate onto the aircraft, so I release (and tip) the wheelchair attendant after I’m at the gate. I use a cane when I’m walking, and I’ve not been subjected to snide remarks or hostile stares.

    Kudos to Swissair in Malpensa Airport last May for sending back the wheelchair attendant I’d previously dismissed to take me to a new gate reassigned just before boarding.

  6. Can’t say too much about wheel chairs but I see fat people preboarding all the time…especially on Southwest…because…they…are…fat

    Not a disability…it’s a choice but the airlines allow it so here we are.

  7. @OldKingCole

    Spot on! Everyone wants to go to the front of the line. People, especially “entitled” people, know how to work the system better than you and me. Take disability parking placards. As soon as lazy folks saw how easy it was to complain to their doctor and have him complete and sign the form, bang, they got a permanent disability placard! Same goes for permanent social security disability; they have psychologists and lawyers that will get you your disability check. Hey, who couldn’t use another $800/month. Makes my Tesla payment! I’ve always hoped the Airlines would address this as fast as they did the Emotional Support Peacock and chicken issue. Have truly disabled people go through a vetting process and have the fact embedded in their official travel document, driver’s license or other legal ID, and NO extended family, real or otherwise.

  8. @Jason —> You wrote, “@Jason Brandt Lewis — you are completely off base, SeaTac for example has $15 min wage and the tipping culture is no different there.”

    I don’t think I’m off-base at all. If you re-read what. said, I *quite clearly* said, “The Federal minimum wage in the US is $7.25/hour, although it *is* higher in some states.” The fact is, Washington State is one of those states. Washington has an $11/hour min. wage, and that includes non-Federal employees at Sea-Tac. The fact that some or all — I’m not claiming to know all the ins and outs of Sea-Tac hourly wages — employees receive a higher-than-minimum hourly wage is due to either local ordinances or the job market: companies must pay more than the min. to attract employees.

    “As for $15k/year, that’s a common PhD student stipend, esp. in the humanities.” True. Doesn’t mean that’s a living wage, does it? How many grad students — for example — have their own place, their own car, their own…whatever. Sharing flats — maybe on-campus subsidized housing (at some schools) — bicycling to/from work, and on and on… They may be PhD candidates, but they’re still students. ;^)

  9. @Rick —> I’m not sure what you’re referring to, when you write, “I think wheelchair service is a courtesy the airlines supply, supposedly for the truly disabled. It’s out of control much like the earlier example of Emotional Support Animals.”

    Did I not conclude my previous post by writing:
    — “THIS IS NOT TO SAY there aren’t abuses of this service. Of course there are. There are people who will indeed take advantage of or cutting corners for services wherever they can, even though they aren’t entitled to them. Sadly, I suppose, that’s human nature for you — gettin’ sumpthin’ for nuttin’. I only hope they won’t ruin it for the people who actually need it.”

    I believe it isn’t the airlines but rather the individual airports that hire these people. Be that as it may, there are people who NEED this service. And some of those people — like my mother-in-law — need this service EVEN THOUGH they can walk on their own for short distances unassisted. (My mother-in-law also has a state issued handicap placard for her car, for the same reason.)

    Are there abuses? I think I already said that. I would certainly support, IN GENERAL, limiting the number of people *per party* who can board: one person to assist the individual in the wheelchair requiring assistance¹; one parent to get one munchkin in his/her seat, while the other parent waits with the older kids…UNLESS there are multiple kids in which case both parents (and all the other kids) need to board at the same time. It’s very difficult to draw iron-clad rules, but there certainly does need to be curbs on the process.

  10. There but for the grace of god go all of us who are healthy enough to walk the miles of concourses to get to anywhere in an airport. (my husband used his high tech watch to count steps and scored a mile and a half for just a short walk) The availability of wheelchairs has given many people the ability to travel, to see the new grandchild, to make one last trip before total immobility sets. I do think that it is not unreasonable for people who cannot walk to have documents attesting to their inabilities so that there are wheelchairs available for them and are not being used by scum fakers.

    What I am concerned about is a document I found on American Airlines website last year or before that of instructions for the disabled policy and in have told people they can ask other passengers to help them. Thus, AA has authorized the disabled passenger. That puts the abled passengers in a difficult situation. If they help and end up causing more problems, they could be subject to suit from the disabled person and if the healthy passenger refuses for whatever reason to help, again I could see a lawsuit. Passengers do not know of this responsibility.

    This whole safety thing is laughable. Does the airline reasonably think that the disabled are going to be able to get to an exit? In which case they could be preventing others from successfully exiting the plane.

    I remember when Christopher Reeves traveled by plane after his accident. He was so disabled that he could not even breathe on his own. Now really, is he going to be able to exit the plane with all of the equipment he needs just to stay alive in case of an emergency? The airlines need to be up front about this. Perhaps seating all disabled people in one section with a cabin steward assigned to that section might address some of these issues. The upshot is that all passengers’ ability to exit the entire plane is compromised.

  11. Whoops! Forgot the footnote…

    ¹Certain airlines create their own additional layer of complexity, specifically Southwest and the ULCCs. It’s fine for (e.g.) me to go down the jetway and help my mother-in-law. But what if we’re flying on Southwest and there are four of us flying together? Obviously we would like to sit together, and if we were flying on another carrier, we could have booked seats together…but not on Southwest or the ULCC’s. I’m sure there are ways around this, but again, it’s on a case by case basis.

  12. @Jason Brandt Lewis
    That’s exactly what I thought I said and what I was referring to, that some truly need a wheelchair and that it’s out of control just like the whole Emotional Support Animal program. Did you watch the video above?

    I dread boarding and deboarding aircraft. On a recent trip to Asia, I sat in my seat until it appeared that I was the last one on the aircraft and when there was quiet. At that point, I deboarded the aircraft along with a couple FAs. As I exited the plane onto the jetway, I counted nine wheelchair assistants still waiting for people in an aircraft which was empty. I mentioned this to one of the FAs, who laughed and said; “it’s standard”.

    Early boarding is not a right for anyone in my opinion. If I want to board early, I pay for it. The entire thread here is about “Wheelchair Assistance for Airport Priority When They’re Just Fine”. There are ways to manage this service and I suspect the airlines are afraid of being sued by ADA lawyers for limiting 10 extended family members from boarding earlier. That’s the “PC”, “Entitled”, “I’m a Victim”, and “Snowflake” world we live in now. G’day!

  13. 10 years ago, in my mid-40’s, a congenital spine defect caught up with me and I was in a wheel chair for over a year (until a second surgery from a different doc took care of it). I’m sure I didn’t look like I needed a wheel chair, but I couldn’t stand for more than 30 seconds at a time. Of course, I flew with my own wheel chair because — well, I NEEDED A WHEEL CHAIR — so that helped to remove suspicion (I hope). I would always tip $5.

  14. Every body has a different medical condition I have scoliosis but cant walk the only thing I cant do is stand a long time I start feeling pain in my lower back I use a wheel chair just to get to tsa line without pain. I get to my gate as long as my ticket says priority boarding I dont need the wheel chair around I walk on my self no one ever says anything. I land I walk off the plane into the tunnel I pass the attendants waiting with wheel chairs I can walk to baggage claim

  15. @Gary,

    With now more than a decade, and countless flights spanning Africa, Asia, Europe & North America, transiting many of the world’s largest, and smallest, airports, and a great many in between, that has found us in jaw droppingly good (Johannesburg and Cape Town in South Africa; Dublin, Ireland; Amsterdam; and Orlando/MCO), as well as breathtakingly (not to mention shamefully) bad airports (Heathrow Terminal 3 Departures anyone? Any American Airlines terminal; JFK Terminal 4, just to name a few of the appallingly, and consistently, bad for disabled passengers airports we loathe), plus, of course, a great many of the world’s best – and worst – airlines, my partner (who travels far more often than I do, but is now well attuned to airline service delivery topics overall, and especially as he experiences as a bona fide reduced mobility passenger) and I (as an industry “expert” with decades of professional experience working in airline related fields, including direct consulting engagements with managers at all levels right up to, and including, the C-suite) with my overall “well above average” knowlege and familiarity with the industry, airports, regulatory and service delivery facets, have pretty much seen the exceptionally good and best in humanity at a great many airllines, airports, and among the “third party contractors” who provide wheelchair attendants/assistance… the exceptionally bad, and even degrading treatment shown reduced mobility/disabled passengers (again, London/Heathrow Terminal 3 departures anyone? Or JFK Terminal 4 with its epically LOOOOONNNNG WAITS in that awful disabled passengers’ corral, followed by the “hand-off” just before entering the area for clearing security where another long wait often is encountered…) …plus everything in between!

    So, it is through both of our considerable, first hand experiences that I’m offering the following “advice” regarding a tipping scale that for us is now so easily understood and recognized between us, that often we don’t even need to consult with each other before deciding what amount to offer (and why).

    So, when a family member recently was returning from life saving surgery performed by specialists at a world renown hospital that required flying for all of her medical tests, consultations, and the surgery itself over the past few weeks and months, and was under doctor’s orders to use a wheelchair for the return flight and not lift more than 5 lbs of carry on baggage, and asked us how much to tip, I sent the suggestions copied below as a guideline we use when my partner (his sibling was flying) travels alone for work, or when he and I fly together for work and/or personal travel.

    So, here’s a guide that we use and have found serves him/us well, and for which his sibling later replied they also found helpful:

    “That’s all I need, as the wheelchair request includes an attendant, and I wanted to be sure I could specifically reference the doctor’s instructions exactly as prescribed.

    Fortunately, the arrival is at MCO – which our experience has consistently shown as being among the BEST airports in the world in terms of how well it treats passengers who request wheelchair assistance.

    Before u land, the flight attendants may stop by and give u info about deplaning.

    Sometimes they request that a person waits until everyone else has deplaned to ensure the wheelchair AND the attendant is waiting at the door; other times they leave things at our discretion.

    But, as noted, our experience at MCO has ALWAYS been among the best anywhere in the world when it comes to wheelchair assistance.

    Just have some cash for tipping at both ends as the wheelchair attendants are often paid minimum wage, and tipping makes a difference – especially when u get a good attendant!

    To start, we plan ahead and usually bring either two $5 bills and ten singles (for a grand total of $20)

    Or three $5 bills and five singles.

    Our tipping scale is this:

    A.) $10 for exceptional attendants (they do happen, more often than than we imagined it would, and when so, we sure do appreciate it, since getting thru security itself can be an ordeal under ordinary circumstances for all of us, but all the more so when one is already in pain and/or feeling fatigued due to illness and weakness arising from medical situations).

    [I’ll add here for further clairfication: Exceptional attendants to him/us are those who are attentive to his needs overall, and who tend to “lookout” for the person in the wheelchair when they go through security and things can get chaotic with others crowding around the bins, taking off shoes, taking out computers, etc., and everyone is anxious to get it all over with as soon as possible, in that they help him place his carry ons into the bins, keep track of his possessions (including his cane), and then at the other side remember what his possessions and carryon bags (backpack/computer case) look like, and help him collect them – especially during the occasional secondary security screening and swabbing, or on those rare occasions when something in the bag gets flagged for a manual inspection and rescanning.

    The really good attendants who seem genuinely interested in looking out for him (and they do exist more often than one might expect!) get shown our deepest appreciation and gratitude for their assistance, and that’s usually $10 (unless the gate is ridiculously close to security and there wasn’t much of a line that took long to clear security, where $7-8 certainly seems reasonable)

    B.) $6 – $8 for varying degrees of good to very good

    C.) $5 for “thanks” but really only bc we didn’t want to be total assholes and offer less – or nothing at all*

    *(there was an isolated case or two over the years of attendants where their homophobia and hostility was palpable so they got nada bc we believed they were being an asshole – and we had no problem returning the favor! But again, that only happened once outright where upon arrival at the gate no tip was offered, or maybe twice, when including the time the attendant was so uncomfortably homophobic he abruptly stopped another attendant returning back from a gate with an empty chair, handed us off to that other attendant (they switched chairs), and as we didn’t buy his bs excuse that he “just remembered” had to pick up someone else, we just kept rolling along with the new person without hesitation and never looked back…)

    Obviously, gates at the furthest end of the terminal tend (JFK Terminal 4 “B” [Delta] side is easily waaaaayyyy more than half a mile long) to add a $1 or two, with gates just past security making $5 perfectly acceptable, too, even for very good assistance, or for $7-$8 as noted above in “A”.

    It all depends…

    [Also adding with this readers’ comments post: Hope others find our tipping scale useful, with the following additional notations: this largely applies in the USA and at airports around the world where tipping is acceptable, or at least won’t be viewed unfavorably, as there have been a few isolated instances overseas where the tips offered were declined… I know, hard for most Americans to fathom that, but there are places and cultures where tipping is viewed vastly differently than here!]

  16. ADDENDUM: for the back end, or arrivals side of the trip, instead of how things go in terms of getting through security and how well “looked after” we view the wheelchair attendant is as a factor to include when deciding upon a tip amount, the factors that influence his/our tip amount are:

    – length of time spent waiting for a chair and an attendant to arrive, either waiting on the plane til instructed by the crew to deplane, or if he gets off the plane and then is left to sit (rot) in a prepositioned, empty wheelchair in the jetway that’s just outside the aircraft for more than five mins for an attendant to actually arrive (and we’re at an airport that says he must wait for the attendant instead of allowing me to improvise instead if we’re traveling together, or if he’s flying alone and is left to wait for more than five mins in the jetway…);

    – attentiveness – as in does the attendant ask if he needs to stop by the bathroom after deplaning, and before heading towards baggage claim/exit doors of the terminal itself;

    – assistance at baggage claim, when bags are checked (for most trips as wheelchairs and anything more than a backpack, computer bag and a cane, don’t really go well together – especially at bigger airports where gates can be far away from the headhouse, or for connecting flights where it’s impractical to keep track of additional bags, in general terms, but also for those times when last minute gate changes for any flight makes getting from one side of a terminal to another quite challenging!)

    – lastly, and getting back to the “attentiveness” factor, for those occasional times when the wheelchair attendant all but insists on helping him get to the curb when a car service is picking him up for work trips – or we take public transportation home for our own personal travel (AirTrains to LIRR, NJ Transit, NYC Subway, and/or bus to Port Authority which is nearby…)

    So, yes, there are separate “variables” we use to determine tip amounts offered on the arrivals end of any trip other than what probably is the biggest factor on the departure side, which is clearing security…

    But, just the same, we have found the $5-$10 scale applies on both sides of the trip, with the determining factors of what’s offered varying by how the attendant’s handle the two different sides of the process itself, be it clearing security and getting to the gate prior to departure, or the reverse process of how long, and how well, the process was after landing and getting out of the airport…

    Oh, and one last thought: for those who “game” or are in the belief that there’s “nothing wrong” faking a disability to jump the line and/or board ahead of everyone else instead of dead last or next to dead last:


    There’s nothing that can justify or excuse such despicable, and rank selfish, behavior.


    Airports and air travel is hard enough for everyone. And trust me, you have no idea how much more challenging and stressful it is for someone who’s strength and mobility is reduced, or for those whom have no mobility at all, until you either experience it yourself, or see the challenges and ordeal that loved ones far too often encounter when they travel happening right before your very own eyes and ears.

    So, your faking and lying makes you among the lowest form of scum imaginable if only because of the additional time and hardships that those with a genuine need face when airlines see their only method to “police” your abuses by making the process of providing wheelchairs and attendants as torturous and unpleasant as possible in the form of ever lengthening waits for chairs and attendants to be provided; forcing disabled passengers to find the waiting area – aka penalty box, “corral”, etc. – elsewhere in the terminal, and often far away from the bag drop/check in desks; the “two-step” process where there first is a wait in one designated area for the wheelchair and attendant to be provided, who once provided, wheel the passenger from the penalty box/corral/pen/“waiting area” to another spot in the headhouse just before the lines to enter and clear security begin, “park” the passenger there with either instructions to wait for another attendant, or whom “disappear” for another 5-15, maybe 20 mins, and then come back to finally escort the wheelchair bound passenger through security and to their gate.

    Maybe you never realized the “cost” to others by your despicable and shameful selfishness, and only viewed it as your “right” to evade the many and ever escalating bs fees airlines have become addicted to in their insatiable greed say the way crackheads become desperate in their addictions to crack…

    …but the fact is, your selfish actions are not harming the airlines, who instead have found their only recourse to better control for liars, cheats, and overall sleazebags like you is to make the use of wheelchairs and “special services” as hostile and unpleasant as possible in order to discourage “freeloaders” seeking to game the system by exploiting federal regulations that were intended to assist those who genuinely need assistance when they travel, and as such cannot (rightfully, morally, ethically, etc.) be charged an additional fee to be assisted when they fly, or whom rightfully should be afforded additional time to board and get settled into their seats before the mad crush of everyone else seeking to get to their seats and/or claim space in an overhead bin before they’re ordered to use the gate check for their bags…

    …but rather, those who genuinely need assistance due to age, infirmity, and/or reduced mobility or total immobility are the ones paying the price for your greed and selfishness in the fom of excessive – practically interminable – waits; other delays designed to make the process unpalatable; or a great many other indignities and humiliations that have emerged and proliferated in recent years that easily are recognized by us for what they are – a carefully planned process of “unpleasantness” whose purpose is to counteract those who seek to abuse the system to gain otherwise fee imposed “perks”, “options” and “only the things you want/value (and not pay for things “used” by others)” by faking a disability to evade paying any of the now hefty additional fees that otherwise may apply for the opportunity to jump lines and board aircraft ahead of others.


  17. I swear I witnessed an absolute miracle at BWI one afternoon. I was waiting to board a Southwest flight and there were no less than a dozen (occupied) wheelchairs in the preboard area at my gate. the gate agent made an announcement that he had paged for and was still waiting on additional staff to assist with wheelchair passengers and assured the passengers that they would all get wheeled on, but it would just take time for backup to arrive. In true Southwest style even the Captain left the plane to assist. In unison the majority of the wheelchair passengers got up and began walking down the jetway. Now in fairness they were elderly and I don’t doubt that a long walk through BWI would have been difficult/strenuous, but they had sufficient mobility to walk 100 yards unaided, with their carryons and in get seated. Perhaps airports and airlines need to work on a system that can provide mobility assistance to those who need it for the walk to the gate but have no problem boarding unaided that does not confer queue jumping. I realize this is even more difficult to enforce then the dreaded emotional support “pets”.

  18. Why do 6 family members board with the person needing assistance? Or for Southwest family biarding, why do 6 members of a family board with with a kid clearly older than 6 year age limit.? Or why do people have pets certified as emotional support animals to get free airfare for their pets? Same reason. The FU age!!

  19. I am an Indian and most people doing this are Indians because they are fat lazy and spoilt and feel entitled

    I have taken the cat out of the bag

  20. “There’s officially no cost for the service although in most U.S. airports the people pushing are paid based on an assumption that they’ll be receiving tips, although in many cases they aren’t allowed to solicit tips.”

    I have been assisting passengers in wheelchairs for some time now as a part time job while in school. I find the work fun and rewarding but also frustrating at the same time because the companies engaged to do these services are able to pay the wheelchair pushers a “tipped wage” (lower than minimum wage) based on a perception that passengers using the system are familiar with tipping but quite honestly many people using the services are unaware of. I am in school for the healing arts and can relate several times a day to the struggles the passengers are going through. If we can please acknowledge that we are doing the best that we can to get passengers through the airport with a pleasant experience and be able to make some money at the same time, this is a system of people helping people that can actually work. I push a chair now; I hope to God there’s someone to push me when I need it. Peace.

  21. Not all disabilities are visible. You can’t see from the outside that my joints are eroding away because of my autoimmune disease. I use a cane daily but even with the cane I can only walk maybe a few dozen feet. The distance between gates can be quite far, too far for me to walk with my cane, so I need request wheelchair assistance otherwise I cannot use the airport. I’ve had connecting flights that were probably a mile away and I would never be able to walk that. However, I’ve also had connecting flights that were at the very next gate and for that I do not require the wheelchair. You can’t choose to add wheelchair assistance to only some parts of your flight and you don’t know the gate numbers in order to gauge the distance between them when you book the ticket – so if I disembark the plane and let the employee know that I don’t need that wheelchair at the moment it’s not because I miraculously cured. I’m young and besides my cane, my disability is not visible. I have been refused wheelchair use by a desk agent even when it stated on my ticket that I required the assistance. I physically could not make it to my gate and I was stranded until I waved down a passing airport golf cart. I deal with a lifelong degenerative condition for which I take serious immunosuppressants but since the meds do not cure my disease (they only slow the progression) I have substantial pain and difficulty walking – my joints are literally coming apart. I fly to see the doctor who treats my disease and it is already quite a burden. Harassing me for using a wheelchair when I need one and using my cane when I am able to walk the distance is cruel. Maybe there are people who abuse it, or maybe there are just judgmental assholes who don’t understand people don’t have to be completely unable to walk to need a wheelchair. I’d certainly rather let people get away with abusing airport wheelchair use than allow strangers to decide if I “seem” disabled enough from just looking at me.

  22. I have needed a wheelchair since my 30s after I had my 2nd back surgery. I don’t need it once I am dropped off at the gate but to get through the airport and the long lines I do. One time when I had a connection through Atlanta I noticed the wheelchair wasn’t waiting for me as I departed. I asked the flight attendant if she could please check on it for me. Bish looked me up and down and loudly announced “you don’t look disabled you just look fat”. I WAS fat at the time since I was still recovering after 6 months from my last surgery. I’ve refused to fly Delta ever again

  23. As an airline worker I can assure you that people abuse this service every day. I watch people daily walk around and do everything they’re big enough to do and right before boarding they sit down in a wheelchair to be pushed down the jetbridge. Then mysteriously in their destination city they no longer need the chair. It’s not fair to the passengers that pay for a higher price ticket for these people who buy the cheapest ticket to use the system to their advantage. I can tell who really needs a chair and who doesn’t but there is nothing I can say or do about it. They are the ones that have to live with what they’re doing, but the fact they are doing it in the first place I don’t see them really caring that it’s a horrible thing to fake a disability to preboard without having to upgrade your ticket.

  24. Many people have invisible illnesses. I have an invisible illness. I’ve taken many flights before my disability and after. It is so much more difficult to travel with my condition. I couldn’t fly without assistance. Even with assistance a travel day is incredibly exhausting. I have to prep days before to prepare for travel, rest the day before, and often rest the day after travel to recover. I can walk some but I can’t do the amount of walking required to get through the airport. A significant proportion of wheel chair users can stand or walk for periods, but they need the wheelchair on bad days and/or most of the time. Just because you see someone stand or walk a wheelchair, scooter, etc does not mean they don’t really need the wheelchair!!

    Airport staff and flight attendants – Please, please treat every individual that requests assistance like they truly need it. For one it can be really hard to tell if someone needs assistance. Someone may need wheelchair assistance to the gate because it is way too far to walk for whatever reason but then walk to the bathroom or to get a coffee. Some people can walk down the aisle, but need a chair to the gate. It is so frustrating, challenging, and exhausting to travel with a disability. It can even be scary to have to rely on other people. I know that some people have faked assistance. I know that some people might LOOK like they don’t need assistance. Please give people the benefit of the doubt and be kind, compassionate, and helpful. I’ve had airplane attendants and airport helpers treat me as if i’m faking expecting that miracle at the end of the flight and I ended up in tears of frustration because of it. (I’m not prone to such.) Traveling is such a hard and miserable experience for many disabled people. Many of us have to swallow pride to get the help we need. Please keep in mind if you get it wrong and treat someone that needs assistance like they are faking it is exceptionally cruel. So please give people the benefit of the doubt every time. Please give actual extra time for pre-boarding for people with special needs and offer to help people!

    Travelers without Disability – Again you can’t tell by looking at someone that they have a disability or special needs. For the one that mentioned overweight people using the service, a lot of people with disabilities gain weight because we can’t be as mobile or active! Traveling and taking flights was sooo much easier, exciting and fun before my own disability. It is like night and day. I don’t want to ask for help, but I need it to travel at all. Simple every day tasks of living are so much harder. Preparing for travel and the act of traveling takes so much more effort. Even with wheelchair assistance and pre-boarding traveling is exceptionally hard and exhausting. Assistance doesn’t make travel easy and pleasurable for us, it just makes it possible. Remember that you or a loved one will likely end up disabled and need assistance at some time in their life. Please be compassionate. Please don’t stare. Please don’t make assumptions. If you feel comfortable offer to help if you see someone struggling or you see they don’t have assistance.

  25. It is wrong? Come on, we are using planes and destroying our planet. That is also wrong. We could take train, bus, drive, but we are not wiling to sacrifice our time for that. Holidays as well. We prefer holiday abroad than holiday in our country and saving the planet. But using wheelchairs when we don’t need them is wrong? And planes not? I wonder what moral standards do you have…

  26. How bout you hop in to your horse and carriage and ride off in to the sunset. And while you’re at it, shut the fuck up.

  27. How interesting that you talk about how it can’t be checked if you need a wheelchair. My husband and I are going on a trip this summer. We will find a great airport to use in the area.

  28. I find this article so offensive. Many other have invisible disabilities. I would encourage people to educate themselves on things like connective tissue disorders, chiari, craniocervical instability, tethered cord, myasthenia gravis, COPD, dysautonomia, and a million other conditions. It’s baffling that people jump to rash, insulting conclusions about disabled people. Just because you can’t see it doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.

  29. I’m sitting at ORD right now after having requested wheelchair assistance from my departure airport through to my destination airport.

    The security lines this morning would have made my trip an absolute no go. Both of my knees are bone on bone, and I can’t stand for an hour. Nor can I walk to the gate without experiencing immense pain after waiting to get through security.

    At ORD, I had no idea at which terminal I would arrive OR depart. Both B and C have enormous concourses.

    All of this said, I look relatively young, I’m overweight because two prior hip replacements left me almost immobile for 2 years each while waiting for surgery, and I CAN walk a reasonable distance if I’ve been on top of my pain meds and steroid shots. However, reasonable distances at airports are a thing of the past, not to mention the lines at security.

    Requesting wheelchair assistance is humiliating to me, but it’s made better by the awesome people who help me. I WAY over tip, because I imagine the fakers aren’t tipping at all.

    If airlines want the “wheelchair on, walk off” people to stop, it seems to me that a notation on their account would be called for. They can still have their selfish quick trip through security / early boarding, but they should be the lowest priority. I imagine they would suddenly regain their mobility as the clock starts ticking towards the last boarding call.

    But yeah – don’t judge by appearances. Other than my pathetic knees, I look far too young and healthy to need a wheelchair.

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