I use a cane, and when I fly I usually request an airport wheelchair to get me to the gate, then I walk on the plane when they make the preboarding announcement. I don’t like feeling rushed in the crowd, and I like being able to just take my time getting down the jetway. This method has worked well for me over the years, but on my last flight I was surprised to find that they didn’t make a preboarding announcement. I ended up waiting until all of the passengers were aboard, but then I had problems finding a place to stow my cane. I thought the airlines were required to board people with disabilities first. Has there been a change in the law? Do you have any suggestions for my future flights, to make things go smoother for me?
The Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA) requires airlines to preboard passengers who self-identify themselves as needing additional time or assistance, or who need to stow their accessibility equipment. That said, the Department of Transportation (DOT) stopped short of requiring a preboarding announcement in the May 13, 2008 amendment to the ACAA.
The DOT addressed this issue again in the May 29, 2013 clarification of the rules. At that time they added that if a carrier makes a preboarding announcement in the gate area for other types or classes of passenger (frequent flyer, first-class, premium seating), then they strongly encourage them to do the same for passengers who need extra assistance. Additionally those passengers must be boarded before any other passengers. The pre-boarding announcement is strongly encouraged so that passengers who fail to self-identify themselves, can also preboard.
So in a perfect world, a preboarding announced should be made. But we don’t live in a perfect world, so a little self-advocacy is necessary.
As soon as you get to the gate, tell the gate agent that you need to preboard. Then sit down near the gate, in plain view of the gate agent. It’s a good idea to make yourself very visible, so the gate agent won’t forget about you. This is especially important if there are no wheelchair-users at the gate, as it’s much easier to forget a slow walker. When boarding time approaches, get up and stand near the gate. That makes them less likely to forget you. You don’t have to be rude or obnoxious – just very visible.
Hopefully your future flights will go much better, now that you know the rules.