American Airlines Reverses Controversial Wheelchair Weight Limit, Updates Policy with New Limits

Published November 24, 2020

Last month, John Morris outlined a new wheelchair weight restriction policy introduced and enforced by American Airlines that effectively banned many power wheelchair users from certain flights at over 100 airports. The story and accompanying information got picked up and reported by several outlets, including ours, and the new policy that was rolled out in June was deemed largely discriminatory in mainstream and social media. Mr. Morris published an article yesterday on his site Wheelchair Travel to explain that the policy has been reversed and replaced.

The policy in question quietly went into effect in June, placing a wheelchair weight limit of 300 or 400 pounds, depending on the aircraft. Mr. Morris calculated that there are 130 airports in the contiguous United Stated that power wheelchairs would be unable to travel to on American Airlines, based on the weight of their devices alone.

On November 23, Mr. Morris posted on his website that the airline contacted him earlier in the day to let him know that the policy has been changed.

He described the update as a "move in the right direction, but damage was done," noting that the "arbitrary" policy prevented him from traveling on his originally-intended and further flights; describing how he had to have his wheelchair battery removed, leading to damage; and the cost to him in time and independence.

In place of the policy, American Airlines did not remove weight restrictions altogether. Instead, they updated cargo weight restrictions based on distributed weight. "The limit will be different for each type of wheelchair, due to the different shapes and sizes of their wheelbases," Mr. Morris said on his website, where he provided the new weight limits and a link to them on them on the American Airlines site:

  • Embraer RJ-175 — 100 lbs / sq ft; 43.36 kgs / sqm
  • Embraer ERJ-145 — 80 lbs / sq ft; 36.29 kgs / sqm
  • Embraer ERJ-140 — 80 lbs / sq ft; 36.29 kgs / sqm
  • Canadair RJ 900 — 75 lbs / sq ft; 34 kgs / sqm
  • Canadair RJ 700 — 75 lbs / sq ft; 34 kgs / sqm

Mr. Morris also provides information on a hard weight limit of 500 pounds on mainline aircraft, such as a Boeing 737 MAX.

The updated weight limits won't guarantee that all power wheelchairs will be permitted on all flights, but they do provide a great deal more coverage. 

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