A blogger who traveled with American Airlines has found the airline’s wheelchair policies confusing and restrictive, but his story has inspired American to take another look at its rules.
John Morris, a triple amputee, has traveled to 46 countries in a wheelchair and started the blog Wheelchair Travel, where he shares his adventures and has created an online community for accessible travel.
Recently, Morris was traveling from his home in Gainesville, Fla., to Dallas — his first trip since the pandemic began in March — when he was rejected by American Airlines due to the weight of his wheelchair.
His power wheelchair now exceeded the weight limit for its CRJ-700 jet.
“The airline had implemented this new policy because they were damaging a large number of power wheelchairs loading them onto regional aircraft… [and] in order to protect my wheelchair, they were no longer willing to accept it on board,” Morris told NPR.
American Airlines’ website didn’t show any weight limits, but a representative told him that it had gone into effect on June 12 and showed Morris the new weight restrictions for mobility aids:
- Embraer RJ-175 — 400 lbs.
- Embraer RJ-170 — 400 lbs.
- Embraer ERJ-145 — 400 lbs.
- Embraer ERJ-140 — 400 lbs.
- Canadair RJ 900 — 300 lbs.
- Canadair RJ 700 — 300 lbs.
On his blog, Morris pointed out that this basically bans power wheelchair users from flights across most of America.
He created a map that showed how restrictive this new policy made flying with American Airlines for those using power wheelchairs, and noted that there are now 130 airports in the contiguous United States that many power wheelchair users will no longer be able to fly to, calling it an “air transportation desert.”
Rather than complaining, Morris modified his chair and had the airline remove the batteries to make the wheelchair light enough to fly; however, while the chair was allowed, it made the journey far more harrowing. Morris reported that he was stranded in his hotel room for 14 hours since the batteries didn’t function properly when they were reattached.
He found that other airlines were far less restrictive and welcomed him and his wheelchair no matter the weight. He does remain hopeful, however, that American will take steps to modify its policies after learning of his experiences.
There is some hope that he is correct. After hearing Morris’ story on NPR, American Airlines said in a statement: “We apologize for the confusion and will ensure all customers can travel wherever American flies.”
The airline also told the Dallas Morning News that it is “working with our safety team, the aircraft manufacturers, and the FAA to modify these limits to continue to safely accommodate heavy mobility devices and wheelchairs on our smaller, regional aircraft. To our customers with disabilities, we hear you, and will continue to listen and work hard to improve your experience traveling with American.”