Memo to a Flight Attendant

To: Flight Attendent
Re: Aisle Chair

Shortly before landing, I reminded you that I would need an aisle chair at our destination. We landed, and then we waited. And waited. And waited. At some point your colleague said, “I’m sure her wheelchair would fit through here, and then we could skip the aisle chair.” You said, “I thought of that, but I didn’t want to say anything, because she requested an aisle chair.”

Please take a note: there is no wheelchair user anywhere in the universe who would prefer an aisle chair to his or her own wheelchair.



  1. Peter Tan

    there is no wheelchair user anywhere in the universe who would prefer an aisle chair to his or her own wheelchair.

    Well said. These little inconveniences are a pain for us wheelchair users who travel by air.

  2. Chris Berger

    If you didn’t prefer an aile chair, why didn’t you politely inform the crew member? As a flight crew member myself, I must say 99% of my coworkers want the best outcome for the passenger in these situations. Also, we request wheelchair assistants (who are usually contracted airport service companies) and frequently wait forever for them to arrive. This is frustrating to everybody. Most of our layovers post 9/11 are so short (the airline saves money this way) that we don’t have time to sleep more than 5-6 hours or eat a meal. So, rest assured, we want the wheelchair assistants to arrive in a timely manner just as you do. (We are also “off the clock” once the aircraft parks at the gate and aren’t getting paid during these times.) I hope this data helps you understand that your frustrations are probably misdirected.


  3. Katja

    Hello, Chris, thanks for your comment.

    Maybe there’s a little misunderstanding here. In almost all situations, there is no way to get a passenger’s wheelchair to the passenger in the aircraft. It’s the very occasional, happy, exception when the jetway and the aircraft are lined up right, there’s adequate clearance into the aircraft (usually through the galley), and the passenger is (probably) seated in the first row.

    Without an aisle chair, I would have to be physically carried out or would have to get to the floor and drag myself out. Are these really viable “preferences” as alternatives to using an aisle chair in your view as an airline employee?

  4. Angela

    I exclusively fly Southwest now, because the flight attendants have been extremely helpful with my chair and the aisle chair. I have even had the captain help me when boarding a flight. I find the flight attendants comments that she is off the clock when the plane reaches the gate to be rude. Just because you are “off the clock” doesn’t mean you can’t help someone sitting waiting for help.

  5. Diane J Standiford

    Chris and any airline employees,

    You just read about a problem a customer (she is paying for good service, right?) had and instead of responding that you will address her concern with your company, you blame HER and her kind for causing problems for YOU. People with disabilities are late? Now, what was that recent report about planes running late? Or keeping passengers aboard for HOURS? I don’t need to go on, do I? I’m sure you can spread blame around, but I suggest you include yourself. Ignoring a particular problem is not good customer service.
    We hear about drinking pilots, overbooking, near misses, a little nice to a person in a wheel chair’s complaint might serve you well. I worked serving customers for 18yrs and helping them when I was “off the clock,” was NEVER a problem. If you don’t enjoy helping people all the time, then you might be in the wrong job

  6. Katja

    I’m trying really hard not to beat up on Chris, because I’d rather educate than harangue (ok, everybody who really knows me can stop laughing now).

    I understand the off-the-clock frustration, and it’s some combinations of airlines/airports that need to be taken to task for that. The way that non-ambulatory passengers get off planes is a problem. The issue of passengers being left unassisted is serious enough that flight crew are not permitted to leave the aircraft (whether they are being paid or not) as long as a passenger is still on board (one of the reasons, boys and girls, not to allow anyone to claim that your wheelchair is on its way, so just sit in this airport wheelchair until it turns up).

    My “preference” for an aisle chair is a preference for not being dragged out of the plane by my hair along the floor. To equate this with a preference for white meat versus dark shows a lack of understanding of the issues facing non-ambulatory (I won’t use the airlines’ preferred word “immobile”) passengers.

    PS – 90% of the time, I succeed in being courteous to the flight crew, and I was in this case. I was struck by the fact that the flight attendant in question actually thought my request for an aisle chair was a “preference”, and that’s why I’m writing about it here.

  7. william Peace

    Since 9/11 the services provided all passengers has declined markedly. No population has suffered more than those that use a wheelchair. Poor and tardy service is the norm and I would characterize the airline industry as aggressively discriminatory. Flight crews, under great pressure, simply cannot do their job well. Based on my experience in the last year most airline personnel are rude and not cooperative. In fact I cannot recall the last time I flew when someone working for any given airline was helpful or at least pleasant.

  8. Katja (Post author)

    William, I apologize for not noticing your comment in the bulk moderation queue for so long!


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