All Wheels Up Supports Engracia Figueroa and Hand in Hand

Contact: Michele Erwin 

Phone: (917) 414-0897  

November 11, 2021  


All Wheels Up Supports Engracia Figueroa and Hand in Hand 

The board, staff, and volunteers of All Wheels Up (AWU) grieve for Engracia Figueroa’s  avoidable and tragic death due to the airline industry’s lack of prioritizing and implementing  policy for safe treatment and stowage of assistive devices, often resulting in the destruction and  damage to passengers’ mobility devices—specifically wheelchairs—when they are stowed on  airplanes. The aviation industry has been working for years to come up with a solution for safer  stowage of mobility devices yet has never implemented any change. While the industry claims it is supportive of working towards a more accessible future, action and funding have been minimal.  

All Wheels Up stands in solidarity with Hand in Hand, of which Ms. Figueroa was a member,  and co-sponsors Hand in Hand’s petition to the airline industry to make needed improvements to  safer stowage of assistive devices and wheelchairs. AWU takes the plea one step further: AWU  president Michele Erwin says, “We encourage all stakeholders—especially disability advocacy  organizations, government, and the airline industry—to partner with us in our goal of true accessible air travel by providing a wheelchair spot on airplanes so that passengers with reduced  mobility have the option to remain in their own custom wheelchairs throughout the entire flight.”  

To be very clear, it’s important to understand that travelers who use wheelchairs have different  needs, and they should be able to choose the option that works best for their bodies: 

1. Wheelchair tie-down spot: Many wheelchair travelers are not physically capable of  transferring to an aisle wheelchair and then again to a standard airline seat—the only way  possible to board, fly, and deplane on commercial flights today. Many passengers with  reduced mobility need to remain in their own wheelchairs with custom orthopedic  support. AWU encourages the airline industry and government agencies to work with us  to provide a wheelchair spot on airplanes for these passengers. 

2. White-glove handling and stowage of mobility devices: Many wheelchair users are physically able and may prefer to transfer to a standard airline seat. If they choose this  option, they should be able to remain in their own wheelchairs right up to the point of  transfer to the airline seat. Furthermore, their wheelchairs should receive a special white glove handling service because they are extensions of their bodies and should be treated  with respect and care. 

AWU’s mission is to increase awareness for safer and more dignified accessible air travel  through research and advocacy. AWU is the first not-for-profit organization funding research  and development for a wheelchair spot on planes—as well as providing community outreach  through its Fly Safe Today program.  


Crash Testing Wheelchairs for Commercial Flight Update

We want people who use wheelchairs to have the opportunity to fly in the safety of their wheelchair. All Wheels Up is the only organization crash testing wheelchairs and wheelchair tie down systems for commercial and private flight.

All Wheels Up was created in 2011 by Michele Erwin, after experiencing how difficult it is to travel by plane with a son who uses a wheelchair. She became determined to help her son with Spinal Muscular Atrophy, and other individuals like him, to be able to board a plane and travel in the safety of their wheelchairs.

All Wheels Up has already conducted the first proof of concept study. From that success, we are looking to keep testing additional wheelchair tie downs currently on the market to gain a full understanding of all the research and development that will need to be done to get the right system in place for accessible air travel. The airlines and airplane manufacturers are looking for the research and data collecting, and we are here to provide that support in the effort to make accessible travel a reality. This will allow the airlines to reach a massive, untapped market of millions of customers who never fly, providing individuals who use wheelchairs and their families the freedom to travel anywhere in the world. In addition, it will save the airlines millions in wheelchair repairs and create billions for themselves, the travel industry, the tourism industry and the hotel Industry.

We are looking to fundraise $26,000 for one day of testing with Calspan, an FAA approved aerospace crash test facility. With the data collected in these crash tests, the government data we have secured from other crash tests done on wheelchairs for buses and automobiles and FAA regulations, we will create a wheelchair crash test model for aviation purposes. This will also cover the cost of travel for one member of our organization to the facility to document and witness the testing.

We have already received generous equipment donations for the crash test from such companies as Q’straint, which is the world leader in wheelchair restraints, and they will loan their rare and valuable surrogate wheelchair. We will provide data to the FAA, Congress, airlines, airplane manufacturers, Universities specializing in Aviation Testing and organizations specializing in wheelchair safety. We hope the FAA and Congress will release funding for more in-depth research with organizations such as the FAA and Rehabilitation Engineering and Assistive Technology Society of North America (RESNA), The National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research (NIDRR), and the Rehabilitation Engineering Research Center on Wheelchair Transportation Safety (RERC WTS). We hope this campaign will get us to our goal and help us get one step closer to allowing people who use wheelchairs for mobility to fly in the safety of their wheelchair on airplanes.

We are a 501c3 Nonprofit so all donations are Tax Deductible.