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American Airlines Reverses Policy That Restricted Travel For Wheelchair Users

Journalist and 'aviation geek' John Morris discovered a new cargo weight limit at American Airlines that effectively barred power wheelchair users. In the photo, AA staff are loading Morris deconstructed power wheelchair into the cargo hold of American Airlines CRJ-700 airplane.
Journalist and 'aviation geek' John Morris discovered a new cargo weight limit at American Airlines that effectively barred power wheelchair users. In the photo, AA staff are loading Morris deconstructed power wheelchair into the cargo hold of American Airlines CRJ-700 airplane.

This week, American Airlines announced they were reversing a policy that some have called “discriminatory” towards disabled people. The nation’s largest carrier had instituted a policy that put cargo weight limits on its regional jets.

That policy effectively banned power wheelchair users from flying to 130 airports across the country, according to John Morris, the founder of

“Look, as far as injustices in the world, this one is fairly minor,” Morris joked. “But I believe everyone should have the freedom of determination, and the ability to go wherever it is in the world that they want to go to.”

The Fort Worth-based airline told NPR earlier this month that the rule barring wheelchairs that weigh more than 300 pounds from the smaller regional jets was a safety issue.

"We do everything we can to safely accommodate mobility devices across our operation," Stacy Day, a spokesperson for American Airlines, told NPR. "Each aircraft type has specific cargo floor weight and door dimension restrictions that are established by the aircraft manufacturer."

But after Morris’ complaint to American Airlines in October, and then writing about his experience for his travel website, many others chimed in about the discriminatory policy. This week, this is what American Airlines shared with the Dallas Morning News:

“Those limits have been replaced with guidelines, approved and reviewed by the [Federal Aviation Administration], that better reflect the ability of the cargo floor to support mobility devices and wheelchairs based on their distributed weight,” spokeswoman Stacy Day said in an email. “We’re confident that the modifications we’ve made will allow us to safely accommodate customers’ wheelchairs and mobility devices on all of our aircraft.”

Morris speculates that American’s policy — which had been instituted this summer — had not made waves earlier because of COVID-19 and fewer people traveling. He said he’s happy they’ve reversed course. But he also said this sort of policy is the norm for the airline and it doesn’t have to be.

“American Airlines doesn’t engage with the community in any meaningful way. If it had — or if it had consulted with accessible travel experts — issues like this wouldn’t have ever occurred,” said Morris.

Morris points out that other airlines have advisory boards of disabled people who can contribute their perspective on potential policy changes.

“For example, Delta has a particularly active advisory board consisting of people with all types of disabilities,” he said.

Morris also adds that even though this policy seems minor to most, Americans and Europeans are living much longer lives, which means some will become disabled in the coming years.

“We’re just going to see more people who require a little bit more assistance in order to fly. It’s important to begin accounting for their needs,” Morris said.

He believes that it’s incumbent upon the country’s travel providers to recognize this about all of its customers, not just the ones without ability limitations.

Got a tip? Email Hady Mawajdeh at hady@KERA.org. You can follow Hady on Twitter @hadysauce.

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Copyright 2020 KERA. To see more, visit .

John Morris, here in Bogotá, Colombia, has a website called Wheelchair Travel and hosts a travel podcast.
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John Morris in Bogota, Colombia.