Travelbiz E-Zine
28
March
2024

United Makes It Easier for Customers Who Use Wheelchairs to Book Flights That Can Accommodate Their Personal Device

New digital sizing tool helps customers determine the right aircraft for their wheelchair; airline will refund the fare difference if they have to pay more for an alternative flight with a larger cargo door.

Industry-first initiatives, developed in collaboration with accessibility advocates and experts, reflect United’s ongoing commitment to make the travel experience more.

United Airlines has launched a new digital tool on its app and united.com that makes it easier for customers who use wheelchairs to find flights that can best accommodate the specific dimensions of their personal mobility device. The airline also announced that eligible customers may seek a refund of the fare difference if a customer needs to pay more for a flight that can accommodate their wheelchair.

Last year, United and United Express together carried more than 200,000 checked wheelchairs.

In addition to working with the airline’s Accessible Travel Advisory Board, United collaborated with United Spinal Association and Numotion to develop these industry-first initiatives.

“The more we know about a customer’s device, the more likely their experience will be a good one – from booking and check-in to the flight itself,” said Linda Jojo, Executive Vice President and Chief Customer Officer for United. “These new tools and policies also set our employees up for success, especially those working on the ramp or at the gate.”

“United Spinal Association appreciates this strong first step toward improving the air travel experience for wheelchair users,” says Vincenzo Piscopo, Chief Executive Officer and President of United Spinal Association, the largest disability-led membership organization representing our nation’s 5.5 million wheelchair users.

“We look forward to continuing our collaboration with United Airlines to ensure that all wheelchair users can book a flight to their next adventure, business meeting, or visit with family or friends on the flight they choose, trusting they will arrive safely with their equipment intact.”

“Numotion is dedicated to supporting the independence of our customers,” said Mike Swinford, Chief Executive Officer of Numotion, the nation’s largest provider of products and services that help individuals with mobility limitations maximize their health, personal independence, and actively participate in everyday life. “United’s new tool is a fantastic development for wheelchair users. By streamlining the flight selection process and ensuring compatibility with specific mobility devices, travelers can focus on enjoying their journeys. We’re proud to partner with United to make air travel more accessible and stress-free.”

How It Works

Customers with a personal wheelchair can visit the United app or united.com and use the filters on the flight search results page before selecting their flight. After clicking on the wheelchair filter tab near the upper portion of the screen, customers can then enter the specific dimensions of their mobility device. The search results will identify which flight options will accommodate those dimensions and indicate to the customer that their wheelchair fits. The size of aircraft cargo hold doors varies, so some aircraft are better able than others to handle larger motorized wheelchairs.

If a customer is unable to take a preferred flight because their wheelchair will not fit through the aircraft’s cargo door – and takes a United flight with a higher-fare that can accommodate their wheelchair on the same day and between the same origin and destination – the customer may seek a refund of the fare difference.

The wheelchair sizing tool launched as a beta test earlier this month.

Airport Experience Pilot Program

United is also testing a new program at George Bush Houston Intercontinental Airport to better accommodate customers in the unlikely event their wheelchair was damaged or delayed while traveling. The pilot program focuses on the timeframe between a customer’s arrival and when United returns the wheelchair or provides an appropriate loaner wheelchair if the original is damaged.

United is currently testing specialized, adjustable Permobil cushions for loaner wheelchairs at its Houston hub that better match the customer’s needs and improve comfort and stability. The airline is also reimbursing customers for transportation expenses should they choose to wait at a location other than the airport.

United’s Commitment to Accessibility

United has made several product and policy changes recently to improve the experience for people with disabilities:

  • Providing ramp agents new mobile technology that indicates when a wheelchair is on a flight to ensure they are prepared to receive and load it. The technology also inhibits ramp agents from closing out a flight until they acknowledge that they’ve loaded all wheelchairs.
  • In August, United became the first U.S. airline to add Braille to aircraft interiors, helping millions of travelers with visual disabilities more easily navigate the cabin independently. United expects to outfit its entire mainline fleet with Braille by the end of 2026.
  • The United mobile app was recently redesigned to make it easier to use for people with visual disabilities with increased color contrast, more space between graphics and reordering how information is displayed and announced to better integrate with the screen reader technologies like VoiceOver and TalkBack.
  • United’s latest Inflight Seatback Entertainment screens offer a wide range of accessible features such as closed captioning, text-to-speech controls, magnification, explore-by-touch capabilities, audio-described movies, and adjustable and high-contrast text and color correction. As part of United Next, the airline’s historic growth plan, the carrier expects to take delivery of about 700 new narrow and widebody aircraft by the end of 2033, all of which will include the latest in seatback screen entertainment options.
  • Through Bridge, United’s Business Resource Group for people of all abilities, employees help create a workplace environment where all can strive to achieve their maximum potential and support our commitment to being an ally for customers with disabilities.

For the eighth-straight year, United was recognized as a Best Place to Work for Disability Inclusion and earned a top score on the Disability Equality Index benchmarking tool, a joint initiative of the American Association of People with Disabilities and Disability:IN, to advance the inclusion of people with disabilities.

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