white and blue passenger plane in flight

United Commits to Improve Travel Experience for Wheelchair Users

Given accessibility issues, wheelchair users find it challenging to travel by plane. On Thursday, United Airlines announced a series of steps that will improve their overall travel experience.

This comes after the Department of Transportation launched an investigation regarding United mishandling a passenger’s wheelchair. United entered an agreement with the DOT guaranteeing improved access to wheelchair users.

Improved Accessibility for Wheelchair Users
As part of the agreement, the airline will soon have a flight filter that lets passengers enter the dimensions of their wheelchairs. Passengers with wheelchairs will also get priority on planes with cargo hold doors that are large enough to accommodate their chairs.

Also, customers who took a more expensive flight just to have their wheelchair accommodated will receive a refund for the price difference. Implementation of these changes is expected by early next year.

Apart from these changes, United also announced that they are going to have a test program at the George Bush Intercontinental Airport in Houston. Here, the airline will explore ways how to “safely accommodate passengers waiting for loaner wheelchairs because of damage or delay to their personal wheelchairs during a flight.”

Lengthy Investigation and a Lawsuit
This agreement happened after a “lengthy investigation” on a lawsuit filed by Engracia Figueroa when United failed to properly handle her wheelchair. Ironically, Figueroa was a disability advocate, on her way to lobby for disability rights in Congress in Washington DC.

Because of the incident, the custom wheelchair worth around $30,000 became inoperable. According to the lawsuit, Figueroa ended up using a non-motorized wheelchair for hours, which reopened her wounds. She claimed that this caused “muscle cramps and spasms.”

United then refused to pay for the damages and it was only when local senators became involved when the airline finally agreed. The airline argued that “any act or omission of United was the proximate cause of Decendent’s injuries or death.” She died three months after the United flight.

In 2022, the airline announced that it carried a total of 150,000 wheelchairs on its flights. In the last four years, United and United Carriers mishandled 1.2% of the total number of wheelchairs carried by the airline.