I use a power wheelchair and I don’t have much trunk support, so it’s nearly impossible for me to sit in an airplane seat. My wheelchair is customized so that it will lessen the chances of a skin breakdown, so even if I can somehow stay upright in an airplane seat, it’s still not very good for me. It would seem that since this is a medical issue, the airlines would have to make some accommodation for it. Why can’t they just have some removable seats with tie-downs underneath them, that people like me could use? It doesn’t seem like it would be very hard to design, as they do this on a lot of buses. Do you see this happening in the foreseeable future?
Unfortunately, I don’t see this happening in the foreseeable future, for a number of reasons.
First of all, a bus travels 60 miles per hour, while newer airplanes can travel in excess of 500 miles per hours. I’m quite sure they could craft some heavy duty tie-downs, but some wheelchairs would not be able to hold up to the stress during a takeoff or landing. It would depend on the make or model of the wheelchair, as well as what type of condition it is in. And if the tie-downs fail due to metal fatigue on the wheelchair, then the wheelchair becomes a projectile object and a real danger to other passengers.
On the other hand, airplane seats are all tested to withstand the force of take offs and landings, so that’s why the FAA wants to keep us all in them. By the same token you can only bring FAA-approved child seats aboard the aircraft. Again, they want something that is safe for the flight.
The Department of Transportation (DOT) has also been very vocal on this issue. They are very adamant about not allowing people to stay in their own wheelchairs, and require airplanes to have tie-downs. In fact, in the 2009 amendment to the Air Carrier Access Act, the DOT commented that wheelchair tie-downs were not even under consideration because they “would be inconsistent with FAA safety rules concerning passenger seats on aircraft, since aircraft seats must be certified to withstand specified g-forces.”
Although access is very important, safety always trumps access; and I just don’t see any way of getting around the FAA safety rules. I’m sorry I couldn’t offer you more positive news, but hopefully you now at least understand the reason we have the current boarding and seating system for wheelchair-users.