Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Are You Too Disabled to Fly? Knowledge Keeps You From Being Grounded!

Ever think you could be removed from an airplane because an airline decided you were “too disabled?” Well, you shouldn’t if flying in the U.S. or on a plane flying to and from the U.S. because you have rights under the Air Carrier Access Act. The ACAA is, what I sometimes refer to as, the “ADA of flying.”

There have been some recent
news stories regarding a US Airways employee told Johnnie Tuitel, a man with cerebral palsy who has thousands of air miles under his belt as he travels for work, that he had to disembark the plane prior to take-off. He was then advised that he was too disabled to fly. That they deemed him unable to assist himself or others so he would have to pay for a companion to join him.

You might be surprised to know that the airline was partially correct. They *can* say that you are not able, in their view, to assist yourself or others in an emergency and therefore need a companion.

It was the rest of the story in the articles I read which was missing.
In a 2008 blog, I wrote about the importance of “knowledge is power”, the “ACAA” and that you should know about a “CRO.”

I kept thinking, where’s the ACAA in this news story? Where’s the “who has the responsibility of the cost of the companion” part in the articles? Where’s the mention of the “Complaints Resolution Official” (“CRO”) who is the passenger advocate at the airport? The news stories I read made no mention that there are legal rights which seemed to have been ignored and unknown. Perhaps on both sides. With limited information, I offhand blame the employee and her supervisor, but let me reiterate…. I wasn’t there and I only know what’s been reported.

Just when I was getting very disillusioned about no one mentioning the ACAA, how a “required companion” really works and that a CRO should have been called, Candy Harrington from Emerging Horizons wrote a blog that filled in the blanks. So what should have happened? Let’s give the employee the benefit of the doubt on the judgment call just for the sake of knowing what should have happened next.

1) In hindsight, I wouldn’t have disembarked the plane. This passenger didn’t know why they were disembarking him and thought perhaps it was a family emergency.
2) ACAA says that, if a companion is required, the airline must provide the companion. The passenger cannot be required to pay for a second passenger.
3) I would not have budged without a CRO coming to hear what was transpiring and making a decision. A CRO is completely versed on the ACAA. Once called, that plane wouldn’t have gone anywhere until a CRO was on the issue either in person or by phone. S/he would have known and required that, if the airline felt this passenger (who flies often) was at risk by himself, the airline had to provide the companion.

I feel for the disembarked passenger. From what I’ve seen, his attitude is forgiving and that he wants the airline staffs to be educated so it doesn’t happen again. I want consumers to take it one step further. Read the ACAA. Know your rights. Don’t allow this to happen to you!

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Wheelchair River Cruising on American Spirit? Maybe.

For many people, river or “coastal waterway” cruising brings thoughts of peacefully floating by scenic coastlines and visiting historic cities. But for many others who have a disability, it also stirs thoughts of disappointment and frustration as most of these smaller--- and often older--- ships are not wheelchair accessible.

Built in 2005, American Spirit as well as most of the ships in the American Cruise Lines’ fleet are the newer of the small ships sailing these types of itineraries. For some people living with a physical disability, she represents the ability to now enjoy river sailing. For others, she will continue to be another river sailing disappointment. The success of a vacation is knowing the real answers so that you can make the best choice for you. Touring American Spirit recently, I didn’t break out my tape measure so I’m going to give you estimate measurements based on memory.

Straight off, I’ll tell you that this is not a vacation for a full-time wheelchair user. Here’s why:

  • Embarkation/debarkation:
  1. Short, narrow (around 20-24” wide) and very steep gangway that opened down onto two large blocks that made them “steps.” No way to push a manual wheelchair up it and no way for a powerchair or scooter to roll up it. Anyone unable to walk (with or without assistance) would have to be carried.

  • Accessible cabin:
  1. A lip into the accessible cabin’s shower stall of at least 3”.
  2. A roll-under sink that’s not truly very deep.
  3. A lip to the balcony that’s at least 3” and couldn’t be ramped on the balcony side of the doorway even if they ramped the cabin side.

  • Public rooms:
  1. There is about a 3” step up into the hallway leading to the Dining Salon.
  2. There’s no accessible public restroom.

I’m hopeful that American Cruise Lines will consider more thorough access for future ships. Frankly, even if they could just switch to a gangway that was wider and could lengthen when needed, and if they ramped the lip leading toward the restaurant, most full-time wheelchair users could be accommodated on this ship.

The good news is that this ship, unlike many older river boats, is accessible for those people who use a manual wheelchair “part-time” for distance as well as those who are somewhat ambulatory with the assistance of a walker, cane or crutches. I think there’s too much compromise needed for someone using a scooter part-time.

Here are some good features of American Spirit not always found on other river ships so let’s talk about why I think American Spirit can work for some people:

  • Accessible cabin:
  1. Wide doorway into cabin and bathroom
  2. Turning radius and storage space for a wheelchair
  3. Level access into the bathroom
  4. Grab bars in the toilet
  5. Toilet raiser is available
  6. I’ve been told that a tub transfer bench is available to transfer into the shower

  • Public rooms:
  1. There is an elevator that can access all four decks (something missing on most river boats and river barges)
  2. Other than the above mentioned step leading to the restaurant, there are no raised thresholds between rooms to trip over or have to pop a wheelchair over
  3. Corridors are wide and well lit
  4. Lounges and the restaurant have open space to easily navigate
  5. Staff is eager to help and to please the guests

To see more access photos of this ship, visit our American Spirit photo gallery. To make a reservation, speak with one of our Access Travel Team specialists who can answer your questions and assist with your details when helping you plan your trip.

~ Connie & the Access Travel Team

Thursday, April 8, 2010

New Rule Benefits Nudists

In a bold move, Spirit Airlines made an announcement today that makes them the first U.S. airline to begin charging for carry-on luggage as of August 1.

Though I’m guessing that a lot of consumers, just like some of the agents from our agency will disagree with me on this, I don’t necessarily think this is a “bad thing.” IF there are reasonable parameters. Let’s face it, flying is a miserable experience. And with the airlines’ apparent attitude toward luggage…. losing it, damaging it and charging to carry it in the cargo hold, they’ve created a situation whereby people are packing up everything short of the kitchen sink and hauling it into the cabin past staff who often aren’t enforcing the carry-on policies. I’m tired of getting banged with the luggage people are pushing, pulling and carrying down the narrow aisle of the plane and then trying to stuff it into the overhead above me. And frankly, I’m tired of trying to protect other passengers as I struggle with my own luggage which I’m trying to keep from checking in.

So what are the parameters I’d like to see in place?

First off, “no double dipping!” I have an issue with an airline that wants to charge people for luggage that’s going into the hold and into the cabin. Spirit’s plan is to collect from you either way. Unless you’re a business traveler who is flying roundtrip in one day or you are going on a nudist trip, this is going to be an added expense no matter how well you plan. I’d like to see an airline that only charges for extra baggage in the cabin. I believe it would be safer and more comfortable for most travelers if there is less luggage in the cabin. But Spirit plans to be a double-dipper.

Secondly, if an airline wants people to check their luggage in, let’s see a real commitment toward caring about luggage. Announce a plan and a promise toward better baggage handling. Keep reducing lost and damaged luggage instances.

Third, be sure that assistive devices are still permitted in the cabin and at no extra cost. Good news! This actually comes in under the Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA). That’s why I didn’t make this my number one concern. ACAA
states, “Assistive devices brought into the cabin by an individual with a disability shall not count toward a limit on carry-on items.”

Next, an airline needs to be reasonable. Spirit Airlines has made what appear to be clear rules and reasonable exceptions. Each passenger can bring on one personal item that can fit under the seat in front of you so it can be no larger than 16” x 14” x 12”. Items which can be brought into the cabin for free in addition to assistive devices are: umbrella, coat, hat, camera, diaper bag, car seat (if you purchased a seat for a baby), stroller and also reading material and food for use during the flight.

If you wish to bring on one extra carry-on bag, you’ll be charged between $20-45 depending on whether you are one of their Fare Club members, pay in advance or pay at the gate. For more information regarding Spirit Airline’s new baggage policy, visit