Laurita to airlines: don’t subject travelers with disabilities to “junk fees”

Laurita took to to address the airline “junk fee controversy” that has played out in the news in the past few months that has even seen the Biden administration calling for action from lawmakers and federal officials. Since people with disabilities have been largely absent from the debate, Laurita felt it was time to highlight why exceptions to these fees need to be made to allow passengers with medical or other personal needs to travel beside a caregiver.

It has become almost satirical– the running gags in our modern society about the annoyances of air travel. The long lines at TSA, the subpar “airplane food,” and, of course, the curious case of the ever-shrinking legroom. But one aspect in particular of traveling by plane has garnered a lot of attention recently due to new policies related to airfare: families traveling with young children.

Many airlines, advocates, and even the Biden administration are adding their voices to the ongoing conversation surrounding parents being seated apart from their own children on commercial flights so they don’t incur extra charges.

Indeed, some airlines are addressing the issue by offering seating maps for families to plan their flights and by vowing not to charge “junk fees” for allowing families to choose their seats together. Many families with children under the age of twelve are no doubt relieved by these initiatives by conscientious airlines.

There does remain, however, one demographic that is largely absent from these timely discussions– travelers with disabilities. As an ambulatory traveler who uses a wheelchair for travel and daily life, this realization is alarming, to say the least.

As an avid traveler with disabilities, airport life can be exciting — but also stressful.
(Orlando International Airport, Florida, 2023)

Despite the fact that the U.S. Department of Transportation is legally beholden to the Air Carrier Access Act, a federal law that was passed in 1986 to prevent discrimination against passengers with disabilities, airlines have yet to make it clear exactly how these new junk fees will impact passengers with medical or health needs who travel with a relative or caregiver.

With the exception of airlines such as Southwest, for example, which has a first-come, first-serve open-seating policy and which typically boards passengers with disabilities in the first boarding group, these new junk fees stand to exclude people with disabilities who need assistance from being seated next to family members and/or caregivers that they rely on.

Disability has no age restriction. As such, there are older kids and adults who require assistance with feeding and other basic necessities, or even emotional support, for whom travel would become more expensive should they be hit with these junk fees for merely booking seats next to a caregiver.

Traveling with my wheelchair has allowed me the freedom to visit so many places of historic and cultural interest, Verona! (Verona, Italy, 2022)

Never mind that people with disabilities who travel have already been long subjected to any number of indignities in airport/airplane settings– being forced to use an uncomfortable aisle chair to board and deplane, the lack of accessible lavatories onboard, and often having to wait until the last passenger leaves before getting off the plane. (Don’t even get me started on the number of overeager or aggressive airport personnel who have spontaneously grabbed my wheelchair– with me in it– saying they are “required by law” to “help” me, without my express consent.)

Even with its many pitfalls, travel has increasingly become a lifestyle category in which more people with disabilities are asserting their independence and freedom. With accessible tour companies and travel agencies now in existence, travel is gradually becoming more inclusive for all.

To read the full article on Medium, please click here.

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