A congressman was barred from his flight after airline staff thought his power wheelchair violated safety regulations

·3 min read
Rep. Jim Langevin in a power wheelchair
Rep. Jim Langevin, founder and co-chair of the Bipartisan Disabilities Caucus, was barred from boarding a flight last month due to his power wheelchair.Anna Rose Layden/Getty Images
  • Rep. Jim Langevin of Rhode Island is a quadriplegic and travels in a power wheelchair.

  • Last month, he was repeatedly told by airline staff that his wheelchair was unsafe for transport, per The Washington Post.

  • The FAA and international regulations have exceptions for batteries in wheelchairs.

Rep. Jim Langevin was barred from boarding a flight twice in a year because airline staff believed that the lithium-ion batteries in his wheelchair were unsafe for boarding, according to The Washington Post.

Last month, when the congressman from Rhode Island, who is also a quadriplegic, planned to take a trip to Italy to visit military bases, Lufthansa airline staff at the Boston Logan International Airport stopped Langevin from passing the check-in counter and told him that the battery in his wheelchair could overheat and catch on fire, The Post reported.

This was despite the Department of Defense calling ahead of time to make sure his power wheelchair was allowed on the flight and having a letter from the manufacturer that said the wheelchair met federal and international rules.

The Federal Aviation Administration and the International Air Transport Association have exceptions for batteries in wheelchairs.

The congressman also put the wheelchair's inventor on the phone to explain that his chair was safe, The Post reported. Langevin was still not allowed to fly and had to book a new flight after a staff member brought an older wheelchair from home.

"I decided to share my frustrating travel experiences in hopes of raising awareness about an issue that is affecting countless airline passengers with disabilities across the country," Langevin said in an email to Insider. "It's flat out wrong for airline staff to prevent people with disabilities from traveling with FAA-compliant mobility devices."

Lufthansa airlines spokesperson Christina Semmel told Insider that the company was "regretful when our standards are not met and errors are made."

"At times, there have been challenges when it comes to customers traveling with lithium batteries, as there are complex and detailed rules and regulations related to this," she wrote.

Langevin said airlines need to do a better job of knowing guidelines and regulations.

"Moving forward, airlines must do a better job of understanding the FAA guidelines for lithium-ion battery-powered wheelchairs. If they continue to discriminate against passengers with disabilities, airlines should expect to be held accountable," Langevin wrote, also mentioning how he introduced the Air Carrier Access Amendments Act in 2019 to strengthen protections for flyers with disabilities.

The congressman is among many passengers with disabilities who have recently experienced snags at airports, from broken wheelchairs to reports of abandoned flyers by staff members.

According to a July report from the Department of Transportation, US airlines saw a 108% increase in complaints from flyers with disabilities, from 76 in May 2019 to 158 in the same month this year.

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