Scroll through Twitter at any time of day and you'll likely come across someone who is fuming about an airline experience. The latest complaint? One Southwest Airlines customer is claiming that passengers are using wheelchairs to board early — even if they don't need one.
Twitter user @trendready recently tweeted about his flight on Southwest Airlines, where they saw more than a dozen passengers using a wheelchair to board. Passengers using wheelchairs are allowed to board early via priority boarding.
“Pre-boarding scam at @SouthwestAir,” the user wrote, including a photo depicting a line of people in wheelchairs. “20 passengers boarding using a wheelchair and probably only 3 need one to deplane.”
Other social media users immediately chimed in with similar experiences.
“I stopped flying @SouthwestAir after a man who was running from his car to the terminal in front of me used this to get a great seat on a packed flight,” declared @jasondeland. He then added, "No shame."
“I sat next to a wheelchair pusher recently,” added @trixeyfairfield. “Asked her how many people do you think legitimately need a wheelchair. Answer: less than half, most don’t even pretend that they have a disability, they just want the ‘perks'."
Twitter user @trendready went on to post photos of another flight, depicting wheelchair users standing and walking around. The user added that 14 people used wheelchairs to board, but claimed only six needed them to deplane. "That's including one that came off the plane in a wheelchair (then) got up and walked to the restroom," they added.
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Southwest did respond to the angry passenger, saying that they have no way of being able to prove if someone truly has a disability.
“We’re sorry for any disappointment, Paul,” Southwest tweeted. “We work hard to maintain the integrity of the boarding process while providing appropriate accommodations for all who fly. Since many disabilities aren’t visible, we’re unable to question the validity of pre boarding requests.”
Indeed, not all wheelchair use is equal. Some people are "ambulatory wheelchair users," requiring assistance for symptoms like pain, dizziness, or fatigue.
"I get your frustration but many disabilities wax and wane subject to many variables," wrote another Twitter user. "I have pulled out my cane and skipped assistance from the gate when too few chairs are available or I need to wake up my legs after a long day of travel. It doesn’t mean I don’t need extra help."
Still, other Twitter users weren't buying Southwest's response, and suggested everything from requiring the airline to have those boarding in a wheelchair also deplane in a wheelchair, to having customers show proof of disability in the form of a doctor's note or official documentation.
Southwest remained unmoved. "Hey, Paul! Our preboarding policy is in compliance with ACAA requirements and allows us to provide appropriate accommodations for all who fly with us,” the airline tweeted back as the conversation continued. “Nevertheless, we regret if you were disappointed with your experience, and we appreciate you sharing your perspective.”
According to Southwest’s official policy, “Customers who require assistance must identify themselves as needing wheelchair assistance upon arrival to the airport, at any connection points, and upon arrival to their destination. Wheelchair assistance is available from airport to/from gates and between gates for connecting flights."
Passengers can also book a wheelchair while buying their ticket with the airline.