For travelers who use wheelchairs, airplane seats can present a special challenge—in getting into them and getting out of them, as well as maintaining a secure position during flights.
After transferring from their own wheelchairs, those passengers are usually escorted through the airplane cabin in narrower "aisle chairs," and then must transfer again, sometimes with the assistance of others, when they reach their assigned seats.
The matter becomes especially pressing in emergency situations. Incredibly, the Federal Aviation Administration's outdated rules for aircraft evacuations make no special plans for people with reduced mobility. The regulations stipulate only that in an emergency everybody should be removed from the plane in "90 seconds or less."
But the FAA doesn't bother to weigh in on what should be done for someone whose primary means of transport is locked in the cargo hold.
All Wheels Up, a nonprofit dedicated to achieving accessible air travel for people with disabilities, advocates for the installation of wheelchair parking spots in aircraft cabins (which feels like a long shot considering how stingy airlines are with space) as well as for adding evacuation slings (sturdy swaths of fabric flight crews can use to carry people of reduced mobility) to airplane emergency kits.
While working to get those measures adopted, the group is also stepping up to supply crucial equipment—for free—to travelers who need it.
As part of All Wheels Up's new Fly Safe Today program, people with disabilities can apply for AmSafe CARES harnesses and ADAPTS slings for use on airplanes.
The CARES (or Child Aviation Restraint System) harness features a pair of shoulder straps that fit over the airplane seat and secure the wearer in place. The harness should be worn in conjunction with the seat's lap belt. Originally developed for kids, the product also comes in a larger size suitable for adults.
(Image: Kids Fly Safe)
ADAPTS, which stands for A Disabled Passenger Transfer Sling, can be used not only to carry a person with limited mobility to safety during an emergency but also to transfer that passenger easily from wheelchair to airplane seat and back again during the regular boarding and deplaning processes.
All Wheels Up would like to give both of these devices to anybody who needs them. To apply, simply send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Include your name, email, home address, phone number, and age, along with a description of how this equipment will help you fly safely. Due to the expenses of international shipping and handling, this program is for U.S. residents only.
All Wheels Up founder and president Michele Erwin told us in an email that the plan is to distribute 200 harnesses and 200 slings for free each year.
Less than two days after launching the program earlier this month, 2021's entire supply of equipment had already been requested—showing "the size and scope of the need," as Erwin points out.
Despite the current lack of supplies, however, Erwin says that interested parties should still reach out with requests for equipment. All Wheels Up will maintain a waiting list and is working to secure additional funding to acquire and send out more gear.
And speaking of funding, you can make a donation to support the nonprofit's work by visiting AllWheelsUp.org/donate.