February 01, 2005

The JetBlue Blues

Airline Tries To Duck Wheelchair Rule
By Dave Reynolds, Inclusion Daily Express
January 28, 2005

FOREST HILLS, FLORIDA--Advocates with the Paralyzed Veterans of America are challenging an airline's attempt to avoid setting aside space for wheelchairs as required by federal law, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel reported Thursday.

JetBlue Airways is planning to purchase a hundred Embraer E-190 regional jetliners from Brazil to expand its fleet beginning this coming October.

But the planes, each of which holds one hundred passengers, do not have any space in the cabin to store an adult-sized wheelchair -- even if the airline were to block a row of seats. In order to store a wheelchair, the company would have to permanently remove two seats on each plane and potentially lose revenue from two passengers on each flight.

Amendments to the federal Air Carrier Access Act of 1986 require that all passenger planes with 100 or more passenger seats must have a priority space in the cabin designated for stowing at least one folding wheelchair.

JetBlue has asked the U.S. Department of Transportation for a waiver from the law, and offered to stow wheelchairs in the E-190's forward cargo section.

Maureen McCloskey, national advocacy director for PVA, told the Sun-Sentinel that is not an acceptable option because wheelchairs in cargo sections are often damaged and misplaced.

"The only way to absolutely make sure your wheelchair gets with you where you're going is to stow it onboard in the cabin," she said.

Ironically, if JetBlue does remove two seats from the planes, each would have only 98 seats and would no longer be covered under the 100-seat provision of the federal law.

Federal officials did not indicate when they would decide on JetBlue's request.

Nondiscrimination on the Basis of Disability in Air Travel (U.S. Department of Transportation)



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