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American Airlines Says Wheelchair Weight Limits Were “Conservative,” Works to Modify Weights

After getting blowback when a flyer was denied boarding because of the weight of his wheelchair, American Airlines says their initial limits for regional aircraft were “conservative,” and are working to change those. Although they are working with U.S. and Canadian authorities, they have not provided new guidance for wheelchair weight limits.

American Airlines is now telling disabled passengers “we hear you,” but are not providing direct guidance on how wheelchair weight limits will be applied to future flights. In a statement to FlyerTalk, the airline says they are working with multiple partners to ensure mobility devices are accommodated across aircraft types.

Changes Attributed to Canada’s Accessible Transportation for Persons with Disabilities Regulations

The issue stems from a flyer who was denied boarding aboard an American flight in October 2020, when gate agents said his wheelchair weighed too much to be carried aboard the aircraft. Ultimately, the flyer was denied boarding, only to be accommodated on a larger aircraft the next day.

According to an American spokesperson, the issue was caused by a Canadian regulation that went into effect on June 25, 2020: The Accessible Transportation for Persons with Disabilities Regulations. The rule set was designed to make travel more accessible to disabled travelers through a concise set of regulations. For example, under the “One Person, One Fare” rule, carriers must provide flyers with disability an adjacent seat for disability-related needs, including traveling with a support person or service dog.

The rule also extended to mobility devices, like wheelchairs and scooters – but notes there may be issues. In a guide on mobility aids provided by the Canadian Transportation Agency, the group writes: “The carriage of certain large mobility aids on board small aircraft may not always be possible due to several factors.” The “factors” include small cargo door dimensions, lack of ramps or lifting personnel and “health and safety restrictions imposed on employees.”

After the incident, American now acknowledges that some of their estimates may have been “conservative” for smaller aircraft. The carrier says they are working with “our safety team, the aircraft manufacturers and the FAA” to determine the proper weight limits for wheelchairs and scooters.

“In order to comply with a new Canadian regulation that went into effect in June, we published conservative maximum weights for each aircraft type. Upon further review, we are working with our safety team, the aircraft manufacturers and the FAA to modify these limits to continue to safely accommodate heavy mobility devices and wheelchairs on our smaller, regional aircraft. We apologize for the confusion and will ensure all customers can travel wherever American flies. In the meantime, we will continue to proactively work with affected passengers to accommodate them. To our customers with disabilities, we hear you, and will continue to listen and work hard to improve your experience traveling with American.”

–American Airlines statement

Disabled Flyers Worry Review May Be Too Little, Too Late

While American works through the new limits, disabled flyers are concerned that they may run into more difficulties attempting to fly with the airline than their able-bodied counterparts.  The Dallas Morning News reports with smaller aircraft serving over half of the cities in American’s network, wheelchairs could be grounded unless they are flying aboard a larger aircraft.

The U.S. Air Carrier Access Act makes it unlawful “for airlines to discriminate against passengers because of their disability.” However, the U.S. Department of Transportation notes that airlines are only legally bound to carry manual wheelchairs in the cabin.

“Most battery powered wheelchairs are too large and too heavy to be safely stowed in the seating portion of the aircraft,” the U.S. DOT writes on their website. “Large and heavy powered wheelchairs are typically stowed in the cargo portion of the aircraft.”

The DOT recommends that wheelchair-bound flyers “Confirm with airline that your wheelchair will fit in cargo hold if you are traveling on a small plane, like a commuter aircraft or a regional jet,” and “Attach clear assembly and disassembly instructions to your wheelchair before you head to the airport.” Additionally, those with battery-powered chairs are asked to arrive one hour before normal check-in to receive accommodation.

htb November 16, 2020

"issue was caused by a Canadian regulation"... That's a disgusting statement. The issue was caused by American's "conservative" limits.

Dublin_rfk November 15, 2020

Common sense would suggest that if one was dependent on a device for mobility, health and or safety that that person or their caretaker would show some concern when handing over said device to a group that I lovingly call the ‘Samsonite’ gorillas. Not showing up at the last minute, having instructions if disassembly is required should be a given.

J_Stroming November 12, 2020

If you have a support person flying with you, you are not “One Person”. You are “Two People” so you should be paying “Two Fares”. I wonder when this political correctness madness ends....