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American Sets New Weight Limitations for Mobility Devices

American Sets New Weight Limitations for Mobility Devices
Joe Cortez

After a disabled flyer was denied boarding aboard an American flight based on “conservative” mobility device guidelines, the carrier now says they have reconfigured their weight ceilings for all aircraft. The newly published weight limits range from 75 pounds per square foot on CRJ airframes, to 500 pounds on narrowbody aircraft.

American Airlines is once again apologizing for an incident where a disabled flyer was denied boarding, but now says they have adjusted their aircraft weight limits which reflect the variety of mobility devices on the market. In a statement to FlyerTalk, the airline’s new limits range from a weight per square foot requirement on small aircraft, to 500 pounds for large airframes.

Weight Limits Range From 75 Pounds Per Square Foot to 500 Pounds

The issue was originally identified when known travel blogger John Morris was denied boarding on an American flight over his wheelchair. American originally claimed that the issue was due to a Canadian regulation that went into effect on June 25, 2020, which extended to mobility devices.

After the incident involving Morris, the airline said their estimates were too “conservative,” and they would be working with regulators in the United States and Canada to determine appropriate weight ceilings for wheelchairs and mobility scooters. After an internal review, American says their most recently published guidelines should accommodate more flyers.

After close consultation with our safety team and our aircraft manufacturer partners, we’ve eliminated the conservative weight limits that temporarily impacted our ability to carry some mobility devices and wheelchairs on our smaller, regional aircraft. Those limits have been replaced with guidelines, approved and reviewed by the FAA, that better reflect the ability of the cargo floor to support mobility devices and wheelchairs based on their distributed weight. We’re confident that the modifications we’ve made will allow us to safely accommodate customers’ wheelchairs and mobility devices on all of our aircraft.

We apologize for the confusion this has caused, and we value the feedback and outreach we’ve received from our community partners and customers in recent weeks. We are committed to learning from this as we redouble our focus on improving the travel experience for our customers with disabilities.  

–American Airlines statement

For most aircraft, the requirements are straightforward: for Airbus and Boeing aircraft, the weight limit is set at 500 pounds. When flyers transition down to smaller aircraft, calculations get a little more confusing. For CRJ airframes, the weight limit is 75 pounds per square foot. On American’s ERJ-140 and ERJ-145, the weight limit is 80 pounds per square foot, while the ERJ-175 has a weight limit of 100 pounds per square foot.

Weight Limits Put Constraints for Flyers at Smaller Airports

While the weight limits give disabled flyers more options as they travel, it still puts a burden on those who are flying on regional aircraft from smaller airports. If a wheelchair takes up four square feet, the weight limit would be between 300 and 400 pounds, based on the aircraft.

Flyers requiring additional assistance prior to travel are still advised to contact their travel provider prior to departure to ensure their situation can be accommodated. Those who feel they have been treated unfairly can file a complaint with the U.S. Department of Transportation for resolution.

View Comments (2)

2 Comments

  1. donna538

    December 1, 2020 at 7:20 am

    What people don’t understand is that this is also a concern for the airline employees that have to load and unload those heavy wheelchairs. Especially on the regional airlines, it is quite difficult to move something that heavy while on your knees. There needs to be weight limits.

  2. drvannostren

    December 1, 2020 at 9:08 pm

    As someone who is a ramp handler, I kinda wish there were more conservative limits on these devices.

    I fully respect and understand that the people using these NEED them, they aren’t optional in their lives and that often they may not have much say in the weight of the chair for any number of reasons.

    But I’ve gotta lift that. Not only is it difficult and often downright dangerous, it’s also incredibly nerve wracking sometimes. We know people are watching. We know the passenger needs this item to arrive in good stead so that it can be used. But I can’t treat it as nicely as you want, it’s just not possible, for some of these chairs we absolutely need 4 grown men to lift them and the lift points are small at best. We’ve gotta then lift them above waist height generally speaking to get them onto the belt loader.

    I’ve got lots of experience, so when we do have mobility devices, I guide my guys on best practices, and how we’ll go about loading it before we make any lifts. But ultimately, even after I brief everyone, I’m basically just crossing my fingers that one of them doesn’t get hurt while lifting or worse, they get hurt, let go, the chair falls, gets damaged AND I probably get injured as well.

    Lastly, the other thing that comes into play is the size of the opening for the cargo door. On an airbus narrowbody aircraft the main concern is the height of the bin, but otherwise that’s it. On a 737 the doors are quite small AND they open inward, so the design of the plane robs you of another few inches of clearance. So we usually have to lay the chairs down get them in then stand them up, but some times they’re too tall for even that. Embraer doors are even smaller, though they open outwards so that helps a little bit. Widebodies are a different ball of wax, the bin is so high up in the air, it’s almost reckless to load them up there and airbus 330 bulk doors are so tiny as it is. Generally we can load them in an AKE, but they’ve still gotta be lifted up to about mid thigh height.

    This isn’t a complaint directed to the users of the devices, again, this is a “privileged” problem, to have to do this for someone who doesn’t have the option of lifting with their legs. It’s part of the job. I just wish the makers of these devices were a little more on the forefront in lightening them. I’m not engineer, so maybe it’s not as easy as I think, but we use carbon fibre for other stuff, there are lighter mobility aids out there, so whenever we do get one of those 350+lbs devices, it’s really a question of why hasn’t this been replaced by now. If it’s a problem of affordability, which I really hope that it isn’t, then we as a tax paying society need to give these people a break and have them get some kind of subsidy whereby they can replace their device every couple of years for new lighter and more advanced models.

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