The CBS headline says it all: “Scammers Using Wheelchairs To Skip Airport Lines Legally.”
“When [travelers] see that the line is so long, they just ask for a wheelchair,” Evelyn Danquah, an attendant for Delta Air Lines, told the Times. She said she has seen some wheelchair fakers stand and walk away as soon as they clear security. Wheelchair attendants — whose salaries range between $9 and $14 an hour, with tips, help to maintain a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy regarding the line-hopping strategy in hopes of bolstering their paychecks, the Times reported.
The tactic even spawned a new term among flight attendants: “miracle flights.” Where passengers use wheelchairs to board but abandon them when their planes land.
Kelly Skyles, the national safety and security coordinator for the Association of Professional Flight Attendants, told the Times she believes travelers shed their wheelchairs because passengers in wheelchairs are the last to leave the plane.
“Not only do we serve them beverages and ensure their safety — now we’re healing the sick,” said Skyles, who is also a flight attendant.
Many people who the article implies are scammers, are actually not doing anything wrong other than failing to conform to ablebodied expectations of what disabled people look like.
I’m not usually bothered by the five-minute walk from when I get out of security to my gate in the Portland airport. But standing on the security line is much harder. First of all, it can easily take up to 20 minutes if the airport is crowded, so I’m standing for much longer. And even if it’s only five minutes, standing still (with occasional shuffling) is just much, much harder on me than walking is. My bad knee and heel, normally slight nuisances that I ignore while walking, sometimes scream with pain waiting on line.
In 20 years time, if my body keeps on degrading, I could easily imagine myself requesting a wheelchair for the security line, but standing up and walking once I’m past it – not because I’ll be cheating, but because I’ll genuinely be incapable of standing in a security line for 20 minutes, but nonetheless capable of walking for five minutes to my gate.
Similarly, boarding an airplane is simply harder work than deboarding. To board the plane, everyone lines up in single file and shuffles, shuffles, shuffles along the jetway. It takes five to ten minutes, and if several passengers are slowed down by hard-to-stow baggage it can take even longer.
In contrast, if you don’t stand until the aisle ahead of you is clear, deboarding is a two-minute walk down the jetway to the airport, which requires much less endurance. There’s no reason to assume that someone who is capable of deboarding by themselves, is capable of boarding by themselves just as easily.
Blogger Fibromyalgiaproblems writes:
This is ridiculous.
I’m not saying NO ONE fakes needing a wheelchair, because I’m sure it happens, but I seriously doubt it’s to the degree that is implied in this article.
I don’t use a wheelchair, at all, but honestly, if I were going to fly right now, I’d need one. I can’t stand in line for any extended period of time. Not that I’m opposed to “waiting” in line, I just certainly can’t stand in it. I get around it because I plan my life so that I don’t have to stand in line, when I grocery shop I do it with other people, and if the lines are too long when I’m there by myself, I just have to find somewhere to sit until they go down, because I simply can’t stand like that for 10-15 minutes.
(I’d also recommend reading the replies to Fibromyalgiaproblems posted here.)
In comments at Ethics Alarms, Jack suggests:
…a partial solution would be to charge something for the privilege, like the current cost of checking a bag. Would you object to that? It would probably not dissuade many cheaters, but some, and at least they would be partially paying for their deception.
But most of the people “paying something” would not be the cheaters! In effect, Jack’s plan would pick out disabled people and charge them extra for being disabled.
An alternative plan: When passengers buy a ticket, passengers will be asked to check a box if they want some passengers to pay an extra fee in order to prevent other passengers from cheating by using a wheelchair without need. Those who check off “yes” will be charged an extra $80 for a round-trip, which will go to a fund to reduce cheating.
If next to nobody would volunteer to pay the fee, as I’m sure would be the case, then only inexpensive anti-cheating measures will be used, such as printing a notice in tiny print on the boarding pass asking people not to ask for wheelchairs unless they have a need one.
The benefit of this plan is that the only people paying for it, will be people who genuinely find it worthwhile to pay extra for the pleasure of knowing that there’s an anti-cheating measure in place. That seems fair.