Reporting Michelle Roberts
BOSTON (CBS) – We are heading into the busy summer travel season and that means longer lines at security. You might notice a lot more wheelchairs in those lines and some believe travelers are using them to cheat their way to the front of the line. It’s a trend noticed by Peter Scherrer who manages a small Connecticut airport. “We’ve handled maybe a hundred wheelchairs in a year, now there are certain times we can handle a hundred wheelchairs in a day,” he said.
One mid-sized airport says it keeps 300 wheelchairs on hand at all times and a large major facility says it receives 2,000 requests for special assistance every day. Experts say that is partly because more people with disabilities are traveling, but disability advocates are now saying some able-bodied passengers 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 the head of the line to get through security quicker,” said Kleo King of the United Spinal Association. It’s hard to say officially how many of the requests for wheelchairs are bogus, but King estimates it at about 15-percent nationwide.
Barb Likos is an avid traveler and has a special needs son. She is infuriated by this trend. “When people abuse the system it makes it harder for my child to access the accommodations that he needs and it’s frustrating and it’s rude,” she said.
Airlines say there is little they can do because by law they are required to give assistance to anyone who asks and they can’t ask any questions about a person’s disability.
Advocates and airline personnel say they are hearing more complaints about so-called miracle flights. “It’s a phrase that’s coined by a lot of the flight attendants. They get to the destination and for some reason they are actually able to walk again,” Scherrer said.
Some foreign countries use a system where passengers have a special pass which identifies them as disabled. Right now there are no plans for a similar program here in the US.