United Airlines agrees to improve flight access for wheelchair users © Reuters. FILE PHOTO: The One World trace Center and the New York skyline are seen while United Airlines planes use the tarmac at Newark Liberty International Airport in Newark, New Jersey, U.S., May 12, 2023. REUTERS/Eduardo Munoz/File Photo/File Photo


By David Shepardson

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – United Airlines on Thursday said it will improve air travel for passengers using wheelchairs under an agreement with the U.S. Transportation Department following a government investigation into a disability complaint.

United has agreed to make available a flight filter on its booking engine to make it easier for passengers to find flights where wheelchairs fit and be safely transported, and refund the difference if a higher-fare flight is needed to accommodate a specific wheelchair size.

“Everyone ought to be able to travel safely and with dignity, and I’m glad that United is taking steps to improve their service for passengers who use wheelchairs,” Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said.

United said the flight filter will enable customers to enter the specific dimensions of personal wheelchairs as part of the flight search to prioritize options for flights with cargo hold doors large enough to accommodate individual wheelchairs.

The Transportation Department said the largest U.S. airlines and their codeshare partners reported mishandling 32,640 wheelchairs and scooters on domestic flights at a rate of 1.45% between 2019 and 2022.

During that period, United and carriers operating as United Express mishandled wheelchairs at an average rate of 1.2% which was the third best among the domestic carriers.

United later this year will begin a six-month pilot program at Houston Bush Intercontinental Airport to explore ways to better accommodate customers if wheelchairs are damaged or delayed. United carried about 150,000 wheelchairs in 2022.

The Transportation Department in July said it would require airlines to make lavatories on future single-aisle airplanes large enough to permit a passenger with a disability and attendant to enter and maneuver.

The department is considering future regulations to allow passengers to stay in their own wheelchairs when they fly.


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