United Airlines has reached an agreement with the U.S. Department of Transportation regarding wheelchair-riding passengers.
In a Sept. 28 news announcement, the DOT said United would “implement industry-leading actions that go above and beyond federal requirements to improve the air travel experience for passengers who use wheelchairs.”
Among the changes United Airlines will be implementing are a new “flight filter” on its booking platform to facilitate finding flights for which wheelchairs will fit into the aircraft and can be safely transported. United will also conduct a pilot program to examine the possibility of using additional equipment, “such as a medical wheelchair or other form of moveable or non-moveable chair,” to more safely accommodate passengers forced to wait for loaner wheelchairs because their own wheelchairs were damaged in flight or were delayed in being returned after a flight.
United’s program will also provide options to passengers whose wheelchairs have been damaged, “including United ensuring the timely delivery of the loaner wheelchair to the passenger, as part of the pilot program.”
The DOT said United’s new program is in response to a complaint filed against United Airlines by disability advocate Engracia Figueroa, a wheelchair rider.
In a Sept. 29 joint announcement reacting to the DOT-United Airlines agreement, United Spinal Association, Paralyzed Veterans of America, Hand in Hand, and the Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation noted that Figueroa’s custom wheelchair was “severely damaged” during a United flight.
“Stuck in a low-quality manual wheelchair for five hours at the airport, the airline sent her home in an ill-fitting loaner chair,” the statement said. “After spending weeks in an improper chair fighting for the airline to fix her wheelchair, Figueroa developed pressure ulcers that became infected and spread to her bones. Despite emergency surgeries, she passed away in the morning on Sunday, Oct. 31, 2021.”
The statement added, “While nothing can erase the pain and suffering Engracia endured, nor bring her back to her family and community, we recognize the actions that United Airlines will be required to take as part of the settlement with the Department of Transportation and see it as an important first step forward in acknowledging the challenges and real dangers that many people with disabilities encounter when they travel by air.”
The organizations added, “Much more needs to be done to increase air travel accessibility and prevent injury and loss of life … We call on all airlines to step up, do more, and not wait until there is another tragedy (or they are required) to take action.”