No Care in the Air? DOT to host virtual public hearing to discuss wheelchair traveler troubles

Reporter: Céline McArthur
Published: Updated:

Is there no care in the air for people who are disabled? WINK News has been investigating the challenges these travelers face when they fly. Now the US Department of Transportation wants to hear from you. It’s holding a public meeting on Zoom on March 24, 2022, to address the concerns of travelers who use wheelchairs.

The DOT’s Office of Aviation Consumer Protection, or OACP, is responsible for ensuring safe and accessible air transportation for all travelers. In our investigation, we introduced you to James Glasbergen. He’s quadriplegic and claims workers hired by airlines don’t always appear to know what they’re doing when it comes to moving the wheelchair-bound in and out of airline seats. He says that was the case during this recent United Airlines flight into RSW and recorded it to try and drive change.

“Change isn’t just going to happen through the disabled community advocating. We need to get the able-bodied people on board to know what’s going on,” says Glasbergen.

I asked the Assistant General Counsel of OACP, Blane Workie, why there aren’t specific, government-imposed standards for training.

“They’re required to have training to enable them to provide training that is safe and dignified. But the department does not delineate specifics on how that training is provided. So, it’s a performance standard, you have to provide the training,” says Workie.

Celine: “Do you think there are changes that need to be made?”

Workie: “Well, I think it’s certainly is a possibility and something that the Department has concerns about the current status.”

I also asked about Glasbergen’s seat on the plane during this flight. He’s in a fixed seat, which means crews had to hoist him over the armrest and into the wheelchair, instead of sliding him over.

“I will say to you that, generally, individuals who are getting transferred into an aircraft seat should be getting transferred with a movable armrest,” explains Workie. “The department specifically in issuing that regulation stated that this was one of the things they were aiming to avoid.”

Glasbergen tells me he didn’t file a complaint with the Department of Transportation right when it happened because he didn’t know how best to navigate the system. He does now and filed a report this week. We will track its progress.

I reached out to United Airlines to ask about that seat and they have not responded. A spokesperson previously told me United “didn’t offer this passenger service in a convenient, efficient and comfortable manner.”

United’s contractor that helped Glasbergen at RSW previously told us the agents assisting him were “careful and methodical.”

You can register for the virtual public hearing here: https://www.transportation.gov/airconsumer/latest-news

You can file a complaint with OACP here: https://www.transportation.gov/airconsumer

You can reach out to me at investigations@winknews.com.


Read the “No Care in the Air?” series:

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