United Airlines unveils in-flight filters for wheelchair users

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United Airlines is officially introducing new accessibility features Thursday that it says will make flying easier for wheelchair users.

The updates, which the airline previously announced, include the ability to find flights that are best equipped to handle their mobility devices by entering their wheelchair dimensions into a filter on the booking page both in the app and on the airline’s website. Flight results will prioritize routes with aircraft that are best able to carry the mobility device.

“The more we know about a customer’s device, the more likely it is that their experience will be a good one — from booking and check-in to the flight itself,” Linda Jojo, Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer, said in a statement. Customer for United. . “These new tools and policies also set our employees up for success, especially those working on the ramp or at the gate.”

Jojo told USA TODAY that customers with disabilities will also be able to apply for partial refunds if flights that are more able to accommodate their devices are not the cheapest option on the itinerary.

“Often, there are certain types of aircraft that we have where the cargo doors are not conducive to loading larger personal wheelchairs,” she said.

The updates come from an ongoing partnership United has with the United Spinal Association, a disability advocacy group.

“We hope that with this partnership we will continue to look for opportunities to improve the journey for wheelchair users,” Vincenzo Piscopo, CEO and President of the United Spinal Association, told USA TODAY. “I hope they will continue with us on that journey, taking our feedback as we continue to achieve the goal of every wheelchair user having a travel experience as close as possible to that of the rest of the community.” .”

Passenger history: Airlines damaged thousands of moving aids this year. Here’s how over 30 flyers were affected.

Jojo acknowledged that air travel is not always accessible to people with disabilities and that there is more work to be done.

“We’re finding the best way to make this ride safer and more accessible for people who are in wheelchairs is to talk to people who are actually in wheelchairs,” she said.

USA TODAY has previously reported how difficult air travel can be for wheelchair users. During 2023, more than 30 disabled travelers shared their stories of wheelchair damage from airlines. On average, US airlines damage or destroy 10,000-15,000 pieces of rolling stock each year, about 1.5% of the total they carry.

United Airlines also announced Thursday that it is starting a pilot program at Houston’s George Bush Intercontinental Airport to help passengers whose equipment is damaged more quickly.

For at least the next six months, the airline will make specialized cushions available to install in its loaner chairs if a passenger’s personal wheelchair is unusable or unavailable after their flight.

“The pilot program focuses on the time frame between a customer’s arrival and when United returns the wheelchair or provides a suitable loaner wheelchair if the original is damaged,” the airline said in a statement. “United is currently testing specialized and adjustable Permobil cushions for loaner wheelchairs at its Houston facility that better match customer needs and improve comfort and stability. The airline is also reimbursing customers for transportation costs if they choose to wait at a location other than the airport.”

Zach Wichter is a travel reporter for USA TODAY based in New York. He can be reached at [email protected]

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