The Rise of ‘Miracle Flights’

Nobody likes waiting in lines. Ever. But add in the pressure of catching a flight, the frustration of tossing out all unapproved liquids (including that new perfume you JUST BOUGHT), and the smell of shoe-less feet, and you have the perfect storm of wait misery – also known as airport security checkpoints. Some people have found a way to beat the line… at the expense of others. The New York Times paints a pretty good picture:

Pushed along in the wheelchairs each airline provides by request, [the couple] whizzed past the line to a specially designated and briskly efficient Transportation Security Administration screener. Once cleared, the woman suddenly sprang up from her wheelchair, hoisted two huge carry-on bags from the magnetometer’s conveyor belt and plopped back in the wheelchair. She gave a nod to the person pushing her, and they rolled off to the gate.

Despite not having any issues with mobility, this woman and thousands of others like her request wheelchairs in order to bypass the security line. Some even take it a step further, using the wheelchair to board so they can be first on the plane. But then something “miraculous” happens. When the plane lands, they no longer need the wheelchair to exit the plane. Could it be they were healed mid-air? Or might it have something to do with the fact that people using wheelchairs are the last to exit the plane?

So how widespread is it? The United Spinal Association estimates that nearly 15% of all wheelchair requests nationwide at airports are bogus. This practice has become so common that airport workers can predict the number of people in wheelchairs at the gate by the length of the security line. Flight attendants even have a term for flights where several people board in wheelchairs, but exit on their feet: “miracle flights.”

This abuse is having a serious impact on people who actually need the extra assistance. According to disability advocates, this practice adds between 20 -30 extra minutes in security for people with a disability. Additionally, for every able-bodied person who takes a wheelchair to skip lines and board first, that’s one less wheelchair available for someone who actually needs it to travel. Bottom line: no one likes to wait in the security line or board the plane after all the overhead space is taken – but requesting and using wheelchairs just to avoid this frustration has a very real and very negative impact on people living with disabilities.

We want to hear from you. Have you ever witnessed a “miracle flight?”

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