A story that needs to be told. I’ve been traveling with my wife (who was severely disabled by a stroke nearly 14 years ago), and I can say without reservation that the airlines have mostly been clueless to travelers with special needs. We have our own wheelchair, and yes, they get it wrong more often than not. One reason has everything to do with the airport, which has different rules internationally, as well as locally. It involves gate-checking our wheelchair. If you’re at DeGaulle, for example, and flying Air France, they insist on packing it at the check-in counter. This isn’t convenient, and we often have to wait with the skis and surfboards to retrieve it on arrival. The worst offender, by far, is Delta Airlines. Forced to fly this carrier because it dominates some routes, we have continually experienced their blatant disregard for wheelchair passengers (unless it is their wheelchair). It was damaged once in transit, to a point where we didn’t find out until 1 a.m. and waiting an hour and a half for it at JFK. It was unusable. Many times after gate-checking we had to experience long waits for the wheelchair after gate-checking it. Once I threw a major hissy fit about this (because it was the third or fourth time they screwed it up), and they responded to my complaint by offering me a voucher (which I refused). They just don’t get it and probably never will.
A major shout out, however, goes to jetBlue. They get it. They reserve the front 6 seats for travelers like us (you can’t book them online — you have to call) and also for employees who are dead-heading. This is crucial as my wife walks very slowly with a cane, and she certainly needs the lavatory on any trip we take. We always get the best service, and even when there is no jet way available at airports like Long Beach, they use the catering elevator to get my wife to the ground on arrival. If you are in a wheelchair and you have a choice, fly jetBlue. Consistently caring — even the crew that is not working helps out.