Airlines: More travelers abusing wheelchair system to get around airport quickly


Walk through an airport and you may find yourself not only dodging crowds but wheelchairs.

"We've handled maybe a hundred wheelchairs a year. Now there are some certain times we can handle a hundred wheelchairs in a day," airport manager Peter Scherrer said.

At Bush and Hobby, the airlines handle all wheelchair requests. American Airlines alone tells us they're now getting more than 400 wheelchair requests a week!

Why so many?

"People who don't really need special assistance or have a disability sometimes do say they're a person with a disability to go through that special line or to the head of the line to get through security quicker," said Kleo King with the United Spinal Association.

The association estimates that at least 15 percent of the wheelchair requests are bogus. And that makes Barb Likos mad.

"When people abuse the system, it makes it harder for my child to access the accommodations that he needs, and it's frustrating and it's rude," Likos said.

Airports and airlines say they feel grounded when it comes to identifying cheaters. By law, they are required to give assistance to anyone who asks or they risk hefty fines.

"They can ask questions about what do they need for assistance. They can't ask, 'What is your disability?' and invade people's privacy," King said.

Disability advocates and airline personnel tell us they're hearing more complaints about so-called "miracle flights."

"It's a phrase that's coined by a lot of the flight attendants. They see a person come on with a wheelchair and when they get to the destination, for some reason, they actually are able to walk again," Scherrer said.

That part really bothers Likos, who believes she has a simple solution.

"I think we need a universal disability pass. It's recognized legitimately throughout all the different places that we would travel," she said.

The universal disability pass exists in other countries, but not here. So for now, the honor system rules the runway.

What should you do if you see someone traveling who appears to be abusing the system? Well, we are told you should do nothing. Disabilities are not always evident. But airline officials make it clear they hope only those who truly need the service are using it.

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