From Where I Sit

How has traveling with a wheelchair impacted you? Share your story to help bring awareness to the problem of inaccessible air travel.

I use a big motorized wheelchair that’s driven with a custom lip-controlled joystick. I used to fly, but my wheelchair got damaged too many times. Once, I remember, it came out looking like a pretzel and took months to repair. I learned to always locate a good wheelchair repair place in my destination city in advance! As I’ve gotten older, I’ve become more disabled. I now have a tracheostomy and colostomy. So for me, being transferred into an airplane seat is more dangerous than ever. When my daughter graduated from college in Minneapolis last year–a college I had never seen, because I live in Los Angeles–my wife and I loaded up the van and drove the whole 4,000 mile round-trip. It took many more days and cost hundreds of dollars more than flying would have, but it was our only choice. My greatest sadness now is that when my 94-year-old father dies, I will be unable to attend his funeral in Maryland in person. But if I could travel by plane in my wheelchair—as I do on buses and in trains–I would surely see family more and maybe finally get to see the many wonderful places that are farther than a car ride away.

Ben M.
Spinal Muscular Atrophy
Age 59

All Wheels Up Supports Engracia Figueroa and Hand in Hand

Contact: Michele Erwin 

Phone: (917) 414-0897  

November 11, 2021  

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE 

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.  

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