When I made arrangements for my flight I told the airline that I had a manual wheelchair to be stowed in the closet. Apparently they only had one space for this purpose, and a passenger that got there before me got it. Is this legal? I made the request, so don’t they have to give it to me? Granted I was a little late boarding, but that was unavoidable as I had to use the toilet and get something to eat between flights. Do I have any recourse?
The rules for on-board wheelchair storage are quite clear in the Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA). Airlines are required to provide one priority storage area for assistive devices on aircraft that have 100 or more seats. The space must measure at least 13 inches by 36 inches by 42 inches, and it can be used for other assistive devices (such as walkers) as long as they fit. There are no requirements for holding the space for a specific passenger, so it’s available on a first-come basis.
Although there is no guarantee you will get the space, you can increase your chances by preboarding the aircraft. Preboarding for disabled passengers is also required under the ACAA. Basically this just means that you board the aircraft before the other passengers. You are not required to preboard, but it’s highly recommended as you’ll get first crack at the on-board wheelchair storage space.
So basically the airline followed the law. On the other hand, if they would have stored anything other than an assistive device in that space — such as crew luggage — they would have been in violation of the ACAA.
You might want to plan for more time between your flights next time, so you can use the facilities and still arrive at the gate in time to preboard the aircraft. Again, that’s the best way to get a shot at the priority storage space for assistive devices.