Final Destination for Wheelchair Abusers = Hell

tom18 over on the Fodor’s forum wrote an informative trip report describing in detail he and his wife’s observations about Air France’s A380 premium economy service and product on a trip from Dulles to Paris. As part of his report tom18, who describes himself as a “gimpy geezer” also shared how well Air France handled his lack of mobility and the amazing service he received from the wheelchair staff as they whisked him around the airport – through security, to the luggage pickup, wherever he needed to go he got there quickly and efficiently.

Which got me to thinking … I wonder if anyone would abuse the wheelchair service?

To clarify, tom18 absolutely DID NOT abuse the service. He suffers from legitimate mobility issues and used the service appropriately. It was just that when I was reading about how quickly they got him and his wife through security, and just generally how he and his wife didn’t have to figure out how to get to places they needed to be in unfamiliar airports, well, it makes you think.

The airlines offer the service free of charge, and they don’t require anyone to prove that they need a wheelchair. Knowing those two things, and knowing how some people are, it would be surprising if some people haven’t¬†abused the wheelchair service at some point.

And after a bit of Googling, sure enough, The New York Times wrote an article on the very subject a couple of years ago.

In the ongoing debate amongst frequent flyers about how far is too far to push the rules I typically fall on the side of “if it isn’t illegal or against the rules, it’s fair game,” but anyone who would abuse the wheelchair service just to get through security faster or to be allowed to board first is a low-life in my book. For these people I propose some form of “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels” testing.

For those of you unfamiliar with the movie, Steve Martin plays a con man faking paralysis below the waist. Michael Caine plays another con man whose goal is to out-con Martin.

Hilarity ensues … in this scene in particular:

Of course, this test wouldn’t work, but I imagine creative and diabolical minds could come up with something that would.

What do you think? Am I wrong? Is it ok to request a wheelchair to receive the benefits that come along with it? Have you/would you take advantage of this “benefit”?

Read tom18’s terrific Air France A380 Premium Economy trip report in its entirety: Gimpy Geezer and Wife Fly Air France A380 Premium Economy from DC to Europe

YVR Chair” by Pierre Honeyman. CC BY 2.0.


  1. you make one mistake.

    there are enough diseases which you can *NOT* just see. Just think about neurological diseases or limited sight. I needed this service for myself quite some time ago during a major trip. I’m not going to post what sort of problems I had but please let me bring up this 4 points:

    1) if you would see me you might never think I do have real health issues. Most probably you might even send me to hell seeing me in the lounge, drinking a beer, walking and smiling and then having the wheelchair again to the airplane.

    2) I do really need this service

    3) abusers should be ashamed… it is like parking on the reserved parking areas for people with special needs.

    4) people should not even attempt to try to understand if this special needs passenger is legitimate or not. Leave this job to the doctors and to the airline!! This would just couse unlegitimate flaming…

  2. I do not believe I cheated the system, some might have seen me and wondered.
    I had both a back and a knee issue and I could not traverse Milano MXP from domestic to International. I did have limited ability to walk in pain, more like hobbling.
    Although there was a 2 hours gap between flights the ground people handling disabled ignored my concerns and led me to miss my Swissair fight. As I was about 100 yards away I was in phone contact with the Swissair station Manager. he said he did not see me and I replied I was being transported in a wheelchair. When he heard the word wheelchair he immediately said the flight is closed.
    I, with 3 other passengers quickly realized it would be sleep in the airport or take an immediate flight to Basel. Catching this flight entailed me running/hobbling aroud 100 feet. I got real dirty looks as though I was not really disabled at that time.

  3. @tortellini and @charles – I don’t think either of you are going to hell. Sounds like you both had legitimate reasons to use the wheelchair services. You both bring up an interesting, if somewhat common point though; namely, we shouldn’t judge a book by its cover. Don’t misunderstand me. I’m not saying that non-wheelchair using travelers should publicly callout or try to shame wheelchair users whom they think might be faking. I would, however, like to see something done to discourage this sort of behavior. A couple of options come to mind: 1) Make all security lines wheelchair accessible so that everyone waits in the same line and no one gets to speed through more quickly; 2) Airlines could charge a non-usage fee to passengers who use a wheelchair when boarding but not when exiting the plane.

  4. I’ve taken several international trips with my 85 year old mother who cannot walk long distances due to a bad knee — in airports or elsewhere. And airports and jetways can involve LONG distances. Airport wheelchair services are very hit-and-miss, and involve a lost of waiting. We almost missed a flight to CDG from SFO because the person (probably new) didn’t know what he was doing, which was very stressful. We waited an extremely long time at LHR, at arrival, at check in and at the departure gate (wheelchairs were the last to board). The ability to get priority for security and immigration probably does not outweigh the waiting time, and having wheelchair attendants wait in long lines would be a very inefficient use of their time. I’m very grateful that airlines provide the service, but the quality is not so great that it would encourage people to use it who don’t need it.

    Although there was a lot of skepticism in the NYT article, even mobility disabilities are not always visible, as other posters noted. Before I had back surgery, I was in great pain while standing, but was able to walk. I never used the wheelchair service then, but someone who requests a wheelchair to avoid standing in a long line may legitimately need it.

    Also, a passenger may need assistance at an unfamiliar departure airport to avoid missing their flight, but be able to walk (and rest) at their own pace when they arrive at their destination.

  5. When i was in Paris a few months ago i have some cervical issues that make it difficult to stand for periods, and the lines were long and had trouble standing so i went and told them i was disabled and they asked for PROOF outright. Do any of you have proof of your disability? I got into a lot of major sites and the bounus was that they let me & my wife both in for free, some with hours wait time. Lucky for me i had a NYC Photo(Disability)Metrocard as proof. They should ask for proof but people bitch its unfair and embarassing me.

  6. @charles brings out a very good point albeit different than the matter beind discussed here. And that is the pathetic and understaffed wheelchair transfer service at many airports around the world. My parents who can’t walk between terminals to catch their flights, had to drag themselves to the gate at AUH when the wheelchair guy abandoned them in the middle. Although the service is free but sometimes they just abandon the wheelchair bound passengers who can’t go even to the restroom without someone coming in and pushing on the chair

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