American Airlines Backtracks On Wheelchair Weight Limits

American Airlines has backtracked on a controversial policy that set weight limits on wheelchairs on some regional jets. Midyear, American Airlines brought in a policy that set maximum acceptable weights for mobility aids across its smaller jets. The problem was that the maximum weight was less than what many powered wheelchairs weighed. That potentially prevented those wheelchair users from traveling. And that, argued some, was a breach of the Air Carrier Access Act.

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An American Airlines Embraer E-175, one of the regional jet types caught up in the old wheelchair weight policy. Photo: Getty Images

At the time, American Airlines told Simple Flying;

“Each aircraft type has specific cargo floor weight and door dimension restrictions that are established by the aircraft manufacturer. These restrictions are accounted for in our FAA-approved manuals, which are intended to ensure consistent high levels of safety.”

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Policy potentially prevented wheelchair-bound passengers from flying

The issue applied to American’s smaller regional jets; the Embraers and Canadiars. The problem was that there were many airports in the United States American Airlines flew to only using these aircraft types.

In fairness to American Airlines, when the issue was raised, they acknowledged how important that matter was and said they would look into the policy, telling Simple Flying;

“We do everything we can to safely accommodate mobility devices across our operation.”

It seems they have done just that. After the policy got some traction in the media, American Airlines has backed down.

“After close consultation with our safety team and our aircraft manufacturer partners, we’ve eliminated the conservative weight limits that temporarily impacted our ability to carry some mobility devices and wheelchairs on our smaller, regional aircraft,” American Airlines told Simple Flying today.

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American Airlines remains committed to ensuring all passengers have access to air travel. Photo: Getty Images

American Airlines now has a distributed weight rule

Rather than a flat maximum weight per wheelchair (which varied across regional jet type), American Airlines now has a distributed weight rule. Across American’s regional jets, the new weights are;

  • Embraer RJ-175 — 100 lbs / sq ft;
  • Embraer ERJ-145 — 80 lbs / sq ft;
  • Embraer ERJ-140 — 80 lbs / sq ft;
  • Canadair RJ 900 — 75 lbs / sq ft;
  • Canadair RJ 700 — 75 lbs / sq ft;

“We are committed to learning from this as we redouble our focus on improving the travel experience for our customers with disabilities,” American Airlines said.

American Airlines went it alone with its original weight limits on wheelchairs. The Air Carrier Access Act prevents United States Airlines from discriminating against passengers with disabilities. On the surface, the old American Airlines policy did just that.

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Neither Delta nor United followed American Airlines with a wheelchair weight policy. Photo: Delta Air Lines

What’s the Delta and United policy on wheelchairs?

Both Delta Air Lines and United Airlines operate fleets of small regional jets. United Airlines is happy to carry all wheelchairs on all of its aircraft. But United does ask for 48 hours advance notice and a little more time for check-in if traveling on an aircraft of 60 seats or less.

“We accept all types of wheelchairs and scooters, including folding, collapsible, non-folding, manual or powered,” United’s website says.

Delta Air Lines says travel is for everyone, their website saying;

“To accommodate all of our customers, we transport all types of personal wheelchairs, including manual and battery-powered wheelchairs, carts, (and) scooters.”

However, American Airlines is winning some plaudits today for apologizing and promptly dealing with a policy that threatened to leave some people stranded. American Airlines says;

“We apologize for the confusion this has caused, and we value the feedback and outreach we’ve received from our community partners and customers in recent weeks.”