HOUSTON (CBS HOUSTON) — A wheelchair request can put you at the front of a long airport line.
Or, at least, that’s the angle some fully-abled passengers are using to cut through the winding queues at airport security checkpoints, the New York Times reported. According to the 1986 Air Carrier Access Act, airlines are required to accommodate disabled travelers — who need not show any proof of disability — free of charge.
And this isn’t news to airport staffers.
“When [travelers] see that the line is so long, they just ask for a wheelchair,” Evelyn Danquah, an attendant for Delta Air Lines, told the Times. She said she has seen some wheelchair fakers stand and walk away as soon as they clear security. Wheelchair attendants — whose salaries range between $9 and $14 an hour, with tips, help to maintain a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy regarding the line-hopping strategy in hopes of bolstering their paychecks, the Times reported.
The tactic even spawned a new term among flight attendants: “miracle flights.” Where passengers use wheelchairs to board but abandon them when their planes land.
Kelly Skyles, the national safety and security coordinator for the Association of Professional Flight Attendants, told the Times she believes travelers shed their wheelchairs because passengers in wheelchairs are the last to leave the plane.
“Not only do we serve them beverages and ensure their safety — now we’re healing the sick,” said Skyles, who is also a flight attendant.
Peter Greenberg, author and travel editor for CBS News, said he has noticed miracle flights on the rise as security has increased in rigor. He told the Times the scammers will eventually face unpleasant consequences – even if it’s on a higher level.
“I’m a big believer in karma,” he said. “You don’t put on a dress when the Titanic is going down so you can get in the first lifeboat.”
Karma wasn’t kind to one wheelchair faker in the past. The Telegraph reported in late August that Barry Brooks, who had pretended to be disabled in order to secure nearly $2.9 million in grants — which he then used to buy luxury cars, motorcycles and a penthouse in Spain — was sentenced to eight years in prison.
It’s unclear whether deceitful passengers will suffer any penalties in the future. Jean Medina, spokesperson for industry trade organization Airlines for America, wrote in an email to the Times that her organization hopes travelers would refrain from abusing the law.
“We respect our passengers, and we trust their integrity when they seek wheelchair assistance,” Medina said in the email.