The Time Has Come, the Walrus Said, to Talk of Many Things: Wheelchair Securement Spaces on Commercial Airlines
Keywords:Aisle chair, Commercial aircraft, Dignity, One-passenger/One-fare, Orteig Prize, Restraint system, S-1 airline seat, Wheelchair
Air travel poses special problems for people who use wheelchairs either periodically or consistently (wheelchair users). The wheelchair is, to some extent, an extension of the wheelchair user’s bodily autonomy. Personal dignity would be enhanced, and injury and discomfort would be reduced, if a traveling wheelchair user were allowed to remain in his or her own wheelchair for the duration of the flight. Although no law or regulation currently requires that option, groundwork has been laid in both case law and statutes that could lead to such a result. To be sure, safety and cost are paramount issues and must be adequately addressed. Some technological concerns have already been resolved and others are the subject of promising developments. Lobbyist groups are actively campaigning and, as a result, some airlines have shown interest in the proposal. The goal of in-cabin use of personal wheelchairs is achievable, but the process is likely to be incremental. During this period of COVID-19 pandemic-related disruption in the airline industry, both mainline and regional carriers should benefit from the Schumpeterian notion of creative destruction resulting in technical and business innovations. The catalyst needed to move the research and development process along at a faster pace might be a contest with some sort of reward such as has been used to foster other aeronautical innovations.
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