Airline Companies are Bunking the Americans with Disabilities Act – and I’m Over It

Did you plan a fabulous summer vacation that involved travel by plane? If you’re a caregiver, like me, you may dread planning anything that involves air travel.

For all of the technology that it takes to get an airplane up into the air, it’s the most archaic means of transportation if you are traveling with someone who happens to be disabled.

Airline companies are one of three “commercial facilities” – and the only form of public transportation – that is exempted from making their vehicles accessible to those who require the use of a wheelchair.

Let. That. Sink. In.

The law that is supposed to protect Americans with disabilities, offers an exemption from this law to airline companies, but at the cost of a wheelchair user’s basic right to not be discriminated against because of their disability.

Airlines don’t have the requirement of strap-down/tie-down accommodations for those with wheelchairs. An aircraft doesn’t have to have a wheelchair accessible restroom – or even a restroom with hand rails.

Some airlines have made accommodations to include wheelchair accessible bathrooms on larger “wide body” aircrafts. But none (to my knowledge and after extensive research) allow patrons to remain in their wheelchairs for the duration of the flight.

If an airline has more than 60 seats, and if the airline has outfitted the aircraft with an accessible bathroom, the airline is required to have an on-board wheelchair. I’ve seen this thing. It’s tiny. I’m not sure how most people fit in it.

Here are the most frustrating aspects of this very clear defiance of the ADA because (and this is sarcasm) only certain people “deserve” to travel by plane:

  • Those people who need to use a wheelchair to get around must be able to transfer themselves from the wheelchair to the seat, or to the toilet (in the most likely inaccessible airplane bathroom) – or they must travel with a companion. Also, just imagine how hard it would be to transfer someone who needs that level of assistance in a space the size of a hallway closet. It’s not easy. Caregivers who travel with their loved ones who use wheelchairs will know this all too well.
  • Many people who use wheelchairs have chairs that have been personally fitted to their bodies, in some cases specifically designed to alleviate pain and pressure.
  • Now imagine for a moment that you’re on an airplane without your wheels, without access to a wheelchair accessible bathroom, what are you supposed to do if you need to pee? Hold it? Depends? Catheter? I guess these are the options – would YOU be okay with this for yourself? If the answer is no, then why is it okay for us to treat a protected class of people like this?
  • This exemption serves only to line the pockets of airline companies and lacks a basic right to dignity that we all deserve.

My question is: Could this exemption be the result of a strong political airline lobby?

In the 2018 election cycle, reports that this industry group “donated” (bought) candidates on both sides of the fence to the tune of $6.6 million so far. In 2016, they doled out $8.1 million (

Airline companies need to wake up. Boomers are between 55-75 years old today. This contingent will need more from airline companies, or they run the risk of missing out on a stakeholder group with deep pockets and a taste for traveling domestically and internationally.

And let’s not forget the most obvious reason – because all people should be treated with dignity and unrestricted in their ability to travel using whatever mode of transportation they so desire.

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Wife, mother, writer, and caregiver. If you're here for support and caregiving life hacks, you've come to the right place.

4 thoughts on “Airline Companies are Bunking the Americans with Disabilities Act – and I’m Over It

  1. Yes!! My husband is still able to fly domestically on short flights so that he does not have to use the toilet. Our daughter lives overseas and he can no longer travel with me to see her. He has had some rather embarrassing situations with air travel because of limited ability to access the toilets. Once he ended up on hands and knees to crawl back to his seat. A flight attendant informed him that he would have to take someone with him the next time he used the toilet.


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