My wife is severely disabled and must use a wheelchair. When we travel I also pack a shower wheelchair in a suit case. Can they charge me for this shower wheelchair? I called the airline and was told it would be the decision of the check-in agent.
Although I can’t predict what any airline employee will say or do on any given day, I can tell you what the law says on this issue. In this case, it’s the Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA). Part 382.125 requires airlines to carry wheelchairs, other mobility aids and assistive devices in the baggage compartment if an approved stowage area is not available in the cabin. Additionally part 382.31 states that air carriers cannot impose charges for providing facilities, equipment or services such as these, that are mandated under the ACAA.
So does a shower wheelchair qualify as an assistive device? In a word, yes. According to the Department of Transportation, an assistive device is any piece of equipment that assists a passenger with a disability in carrying out a major life activity. Assistive devices are those devices or equipment used to assist a passenger with a disability in caring for himself or herself, performing manual tasks, walking, seeing, hearing, speaking, breathing, learning, working, or performing other functions of daily life.
So no, they cannot charge you for the transport of your shower wheelchair. Will they try to? Perhaps. It depends on the training of the agent. If they do, all you have to do is cite the ACAA. If that doesn’t work, then ask to speak to a Complaints Resolution Official (CRO). Airlines are required to have a CRO on duty during operating hours, and this employee has a good knowledge of the ACAA, and the authority to solve access-related problems. And if the airline employee you are dealing with doesn’t know who or what a CRO is, ask to speak to their supervisor, as they most certainly do.
One word of caution though — make sure that you don’t have any personal items packed in the suitcase with the shower chair, as the airline may disallow it. In order to meet the definition, the suitcase has to only contain medical equipment and assistive devices.