United makes efforts to make travel easier for wheelchair users


Loaners are available in some situations

Able-bodied travelers probably never give it a second thought, but airline passengers who are dependent on wheelchairs count into the millions.

And while mishandled wheelchairs don't quite match up with the number of mishandled baggage, it is a big enough problem that United Airlines has decided that it – maybe alone – can make the situation better.

The airline has just released a new digital sizing tool designed to help its passengers determine the right aircraft for their wheelchair. To show it’s serious about this, United will refund the fare difference if someone has to pay more for an alternative flight with a larger cargo door.

Last year, United and United Express, together carried more than 200,000 checked wheelchairs, but the number of wheelchairs and scooters mishandled per 100 enplaned was 1.09. Comparatively, that metric might not create the headlines that United’s other recent problems (hydraulics, losing a wheel, etc.), but it is about 30% higher than Delta which has the best record in that category.

"The more we know about a customer's device, the more likely their experience will be a good one – from booking and check-in to the flight itself," said Linda Jojo, executive vice president and chief customer Officer for United. "These new tools and policies also set our employees up for success, especially those working on the ramp or at the gate."

How It Works

Anyone flying United who needs to bring a personal wheelchair on their flight can visit the United app or united.com and use the filters on the flight search results page before selecting their flight. 

Step two comes after clicking on the wheelchair filter tab near the upper portion of the screen, when customers enter the specific dimensions of their mobility device. At that point, the search results enter the picture to identify which flight options will accommodate those dimensions and let the customer know whether their wheelchair fits or not. 

But in situations where the size of aircraft cargo hold doors can’t handle a larger motorized wheelchair and the customer has to take a United flight with a higher fare that can accommodate their wheelchair on the same day and between the same origin and destination, the customer may seek a refund of the fare difference.

United to offer loaners when it damages a wheelchair, too

United is adding another plus for wheelchair/scooter users. For anyone who’s flying through George Bush Houston Intercontinental Airport and finds that their wheelchair was damaged or delayed while traveling, the airline will provide an appropriate loaner wheelchair. 

The airline understands that wheelchairs tend to be tailor-fit for a person’s size, weight, frame, etc. and is currently testing specialized, adjustable Permobil cushions for loaner wheelchairs at its Houston hub that should improve comfort and stability.

The company said that is also reimbursing customers for transportation expenses should they choose to wait at a location other than the airport.

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