I have been involved in the airline and travel management business for over 30 years and I have heard countless stories about ways in which passengers try to board their flight early. I know it’s not uncommon for people to come up with an excuse as to why they need to board before everyone else, or for passengers to try to skip ahead a few places in line, but I simply could not believe a story I heard recently from a friend.
On a recent flight, a traveler used wheelchair service to get priority screening and to jump the boarding line for a flight. This same traveler, when the flight landed, miraculously, got up from their seat before the plane fully stopped and briskly walked off the plane, down the jet way and through the terminal.
I told this story to a few of friends from airlines and travel agencies and found out this is a known scam, perpetrated by impatient and discourteous travelers. It’s so prevalent that flight crews have coined the term “miracle flight,” in reference to flights on which many passengers board using wheelchairs, but walk off with no assistance upon arrival at their destination. If you have a mobility issue, you can legitimately request a wheelchair to take you through security, to the departure gate and to pre-board the flight. However, abusing this accommodation is an insult to those who truly require assistance.
Currently, there is no Department of Transportation rule or requirement surrounding who can order a wheelchair under what condition. Creating regulations to prevent scams would make it more difficult for mobility-impaired passengers to secure a service that is aimed at making their travel experience more manageable. Clearly every passenger in a wheelchair is not a scammer, and I don’t intend to be critical of anyone seeking assistance who actually needs it. But for those of us who have the ability to walk through the terminals and stand in line, I would say let’s show our gratitude through patience in the boarding line.