EAST PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Lufthansa airline employees refused to let U.S. Congressman Jim Langevin on a flight after they claimed his powered wheelchair was not allowed on board.
Langevin, who is a quadriplegic and uses a wheelchair powered by a lithium-ion battery, was set to fly to Italy out of Logan Airport in Boston on an official congressional trip to visit military bases.
Langevin, accompanied by a military escort, was not allowed past the check-in counter despite his wheelchair meeting Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) requirements.
In an attempt to clear up the confusion over the battery-powered wheelchair, Langevin called the inventor of the chair and had him speak with the airline employees. Lufthansa still did not allow him to board.
“The operations manager came out and spoke to me and she just would not budge,” Langevin said. “Didn’t listen to reason that this chair meets all FAA guidelines, even though it’s in writing.”
A spokesperson for Lufthansa told 12 News the airline is regretful of its error.
“We apologize for the error made due to the misinterpretation of the technical guidelines,” spokesperson Christina Semmel said in an email. “Our station/operations colleagues will be undergoing a comprehensive review on these guidelines in order to prevent such unintended circumstances to our passengers.”
A staffer brought Langevin a backup chair to Boston and he was able to purchase another flight on a different airline.
“Most people are not going to have that luxury of having staff to assist them, or even perhaps having a backup wheelchair,” Langevin noted.
Langevin said many others with disabilities face similar setbacks when flying and the ordeal is a teachable moment, as lithium-ion batteries become more common in mobility devices.
The congressman introduced a bill that would impose fines and allow air travelers to sue airlines for violating their rights.
“Hopefully they are all going to update their safety guidelines moving forward so people with disabilities aren’t discrimintated against in the future,” Langevin said.