After another week of flights, I am done being polite with wheelchair assistance abusers in airports. I’m not talking about people who need wheelchairs – just the intentional few abusing a system enabled to help travellers that need it.
Who I Am Not Talking About?
To be very clear, I am not talking about people who have genuine mobility problems. I am also not talking about those who may not be able to make their connections due to large airports. I am not speaking of those who simply are not capable of walking long distances.
I am not talking about anyone with a genuine need, prescribed or not, for wheelchair assistance in an airport.
The terrible humans referenced in the title of this post are those who are abusing the wheelchair assistance program for the dumbest possible reason, to get on the airplane sooner. I will give an actual example I witnessed this week and one from the past but they are not unique, I see it almost every single week, most frequent flyers would affirm witnessing the same.
Walking through Dallas/Fort Worth Terminal E this week I saw a man in his 50s, walking around the airport, stopping some of the same places I had, both of us clearly killing an awkward 15 minutes to avoid sitting in a crowded gate. Boarding is about to begin, and I start to mill towards the front waiting for United 1Ks to be called after “Disabilities or those needing a little extra time down the jet bridge” then Global Services, Active Duty Military and Families with children under the age of two – in that order.
The man who was traipsing aimlessly through DFW as I was, approached the desk before they began and asked where his wheelchair assistance was. “It should be on every flight” and then he pointed to his boarding pass. As another agent begins going through the list, the man was saved just in the nick of time by an airport employee with a wheelchair ready to wheel him down the jet bridge before he lost his slot in the boarding order.
He sat in the chair at the counter, was wheeled about 15 feet to the jet bridge entrance then perhaps 100 feet down the bridge to the aircraft door whereby he grabbed his bag and walked onto the plane to his seat.
Years ago, my wife and I took a trip to Rome with her cousin. A brash couple were trying to give us youngsters some advice to help us with our big flight home and encouraged us to request wheelchair assistance because we would get to board early. They then walked over the counter awaiting their chariot to guide them down that perilous journey.
There’s no mobility problem this guy was trying to solve. If he had a mobility issue he would have waited at his last gate until the chair arrived. This is the precise reason why there are always more wheelchairs boarding than there are disembarking. Most walk right past their assistants waiting at their destination because they never needed them in the first place.
There’s an argument that “not all disabilities are visible” and that’s absolutely true. But there is no disability for which I am aware that allows a passenger to walk uninhibited unless it’s down the jet bridge. These terrible human beings abuse a system with honorable intentions. If the man I referenced previously didn’t require a wheelchair to get through the much more arduous task of connecting, especially at an airport like DFW, then he certainly didn’t need one for boarding.
It’s Victimless But Terrible
Am I harmed by their actions? No, I’m just done ignoring their rude behavior. They are knowingly, willingly and intentionally taking advantage of a system built to help people with genuine need. I have a family member who has limited mobility. She doesn’t need a wheelchair to walk but would be utterly exhausted crisscrossing a major airport just as she would a mall. She requests wheelchair assistance but needs it. She uses it from checkin to the airplane door and again at disembarkation.
Do I care if a few more people board before me? Absolutely not. But United doesn’t even make you declare or prove that you have a need for a wheelchair to board early. To the contrary, their language “those who need a little extra time” is some of the most generous in the industry and I have never, ever, seen anyone questioned.
So why the rouse? Don’t these horrible humans feel utterly ridiculous getting in a wheelchair at the gate and then off again 100 feet later? They could simply board at that time and no one would care, nor question them.
This discussion isn’t entirely different from the willful abusers of the emotional support animal rules and my feelings remain the same. But with emotional support animals, at least those problems may be invisible to passersby. This one is not. When a passenger abuses a goodwill mobility system so they can get on a few minutes earlier (when they could board early without abusing the system), is there really another word for them than terrible?
What do you think? Have you seen the same abusers of the wheelchair assistance program? Have you/would you say something?