Airports battling bogus wheelchair requests - Tucson News Now

Airports battling bogus wheelchair requests

In airports all over the country, passengers are frustrated by the wait to get through security and onto the plane. Now, it appears more and more people are finding a way around the wait with a wheelchair. And they're not always disabled. So now, disability advocates are blowing the whistle on the fakes.

Walk through any airport and odds are you'll find yourself not only dodging crowds of people, but navigating around a growing number of wheelchairs.

"We've handled maybe a hundred wheelchairs a year," says Peter Scherrer, the airport manager in Westchester County, CT. "Now there are some certain times we can handle a hundred wheelchairs in a day."

While Scherrer manages a small airport, he's not the only one scrambling. One mid-sized airport said they keep 300 wheelchairs on hand at all times. A large, major facility says they now receive 2,000 requests for special assistance every day. This is in part because more people are traveling, but disability advocates are now blowing the whistle on able-bodied passengers who say they are playing the system to save time.

"People who don't really need special assistance or have a disability sometimes do say they're a person with a disability to go through that special line or to the head of the line to get through security quicker."

It's hard to say how many of the requests for wheelchairs are bogus, but Kleo King of the United Spinal Association estimates it at 15 percent nationwide.

That makes Barb Likos, an avid traveler and mom to a special needs child, angry.

"When people abuse the system, it make sit harder for my child to access the accommodations that he needs and it's frustrating and it's rude."

However, the airlines say they feel grounded when it comes to identifying cheaters. By law, they are required to give assistance to anyone who asks, or risk hefty fines. They also have to be careful of what they ask.

"They can ask question about what do they need for assistance," says King. "They can't ask 'What is your disability?' and invade peoples' privacy."

But advocates and airline personnel say they're hearing more complaints about so-called 'miracle flights.'

"It's a phrase that's coined by a lot of the flight attendants. They see a person come on with a wheel chair and when they get to the destination, for some reason, they actually are able to walk again," says Scherrer.

King agrees with, saying that few people are able to keep up the ruse.

"If, in fact, you really don't need assistance, you're not going to keep up with the ruse and wait fifteen, twenty minutes for wheelchair assistance to get off the plane," King said.

That really bothers Likos, who believes she has a simple solution.

"I think we need a universal disability pass. It's recognized legitimately through all the different places we would travel," Likos said.

It exists in other countries, but the Spinal Association says there currently aren't plans for that hear. Meanwhile, the honor system rules the runway.

"We want to spend more of our time providing the service that you need rather than sitting there trying to figure out if someone's trying to manipulate the system."

Copyright 2013 Tucson News Now. All rights reserved.

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