Action onlineMagazine of the United Spinal Association Guidance for Group Travelers with Disabilities
Monday, May 1st, 2006 If you’re traveling with group of wheelchair users, you and/or your travel agent will need to plan ahead. By Kleo King The Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA) requires that airlines accept individuals with disabilities traveling as a group. The regulations implementing ACAA require that if the group consists of 10 or more people, the group must give the airline 48 hours advanced notice and check in at the gate one hour before departure.
In reality, the group leader or the travel agent booking the group trip will contact the airline at the time of booking in order to obtain any special group rates. Travel agents or group leaders need to know many things when booking a group trip for travelers with disabilities, including those who use mobility devices such as scooters or wheelchairs. For instance, the individual making the trip arrangements should be in contact with the airline’s group travel department and inform the airline of the mobility equipment that will be taken on the trip. Depending on aircraft size, the devices may need to be broken down so they all fit in the stowage compartment.
Special Equipment If the group is traveling to compete in a sporting event and has additional devices, such as sleds for sled hockey or wheelchairs designed for softball, not all of the devices may fit on one aircraft. If this occurs, the group may be asked to split up for travel on more aircraft. Individuals in the group can then travel either with their equipment, or with the whole group but separate from their equipment or sporting devices. The individual using a mobility device to ambulate on a daily basis cannot be separated from that device, only from the additional devices.
Level-Entry Boarding Devices Another helpful hint for groups traveling on aircrafts is to ask if the particular aircraft will be boarded and deplaned via a level-entry boarding device such as a jetway or a lift. In most cases, large groups traveling together would rather use a jetway; the use of a lift, however, is allowed by the ACAA. Asking which method will be used is simply preparing the group for what to expect, especially since the use of a lift is more time consuming than using a jetway. It is important to remember, however, that the method of deplaning can change without notice due to air traffic, weather, or other issues, so a group should always be prepared for either method of deplaning.
Stowage The group should be prepared to explain how to break the devices down so that the maximum number can fit within the stowage area. (See ‘Air Travel with a Wheelchair’ on page 13 for more information.) For example, removing the wheels from a manual wheelchair often allows more wheelchairs to fit into the same size stowage areas. It is a good idea to affix written directions to the wheelchair so that the individual at the destination can reassemble the wheelchair. Also, if any parts of the mobility device are easily removable, the individual should remove those pieces and take them onboard The airline will not count these pieces toward the allotted number of carry-on items.
Complaints If you believe that an airline is discriminating against your group because it consists of members with disabilities, call the United States Department of Transportation’s Aviation Consumer Protection Division toll free at 800-778-4839 or 800-455-9880 (TTY) between the hours of 7:00 a.m. to 11:00 p.m. Eastern Time. Kleo King is program counsel.