United Airlines announced new technologies and policies to improve the travel experience for customers who use a wheelchair, including a new digital filter on united.com that helps determine which aircraft can accommodate different-sized chairs and refund the fare difference if a higher-fare flight is needed to accommodate a specific wheelchair size. United expects to launch these new tools early next year.
“By offering customers an easy way to know if their personal wheelchair fits on a particular aeroplane, we can give them the peace of mind they deserve when they fly with us,” said Linda Jojo, Executive Vice President and Chief Customer Officer for United. “Plus, collecting this information beforehand ensures our team can handle these special items properly.”
New Flight Filter and Fare Reimbursement
The new flight filter on united.com will enable customers to enter the unique dimensions of their personal wheelchairs as part of the flight search. The search results will then prioritise flight options on aircraft with cargo hold doors large enough to accommodate the wheelchair dimensions. The size of aircraft cargo hold doors varies, so some aircraft are better able than others to handle larger motorised wheelchairs, which must travel upright.
If a customer is unable to take a preferred flight because their wheelchair will not fit through the aircraft’s cargo door – and takes a United flight with a higher fare that can accommodate their wheelchair on the same day and between the same origin and destination, – the customer may seek a refund of the fare difference.
Customers seeking a refund of the fare difference must follow United’s process, including completing a short form after travelling. United will promptly ensure they receive the difference in fare after review.
Airport Experience Improvement Program
Later this year, United will begin a six-month pilot program at George Bush Houston Intercontinental Airport to explore ways to better accommodate customers in the unlikely event their wheelchair was damaged or delayed while travelling. The program will focus on the timeframe between a customer’s arrival and when United returns the wheelchair or provides an appropriate loaner wheelchair if the original is damaged.
United will collaborate with its Accessible Travel Advisory Board to explore several initiatives to improve the airport experience during this challenging period, including providing on-site specialised seating and reimbursing the customer for transportation expenses should they wait at a location other than the airport.
United entered an agreement earlier this month with the U.S. Department of Transportation to deliver these initiatives through a mutual commitment to increase accessibility and improve the travel experience for customers who require the use of a wheelchair. United carried about 150,000 wheelchairs in 2022.
United’s other recent measures to improve accessibility include:
- Providing ramp agents with new mobile technology that indicates when a wheelchair is on a flight to ensure they are prepared to receive and load it. The technology also inhibits ramp agents from closing out a flight until they acknowledge that they’ve loaded all wheelchairs.
- In August, United became the first U.S. airline to add Braille to aircraft interiors, helping millions of travellers with visual disabilities more easily navigate the cabin independently. United expects to outfit its entire mainline fleet with Braille by the end of 2026.
- The United mobile app was recently redesigned to make it easier for people with visual disabilities with increased colour contrast, more space between graphics and reordering of how information is displayed and announced to better integrate with screen reader technologies like VoiceOver and TalkBack.
- United’s latest Inflight Seatback Entertainment screens offer a wide range of accessible features such as closed captioning, text-to-speech controls, magnification, explore-by-touch capabilities, audio-described movies, and adjustable and high-contrast text and colour correction. As part of United Next, the airline’s historic growth plan, the carrier expects to take delivery of about 700 new narrow and widebody aircraft by the end of 2032, all of which will include the latest in seatback screen entertainment options.
- Through Bridge, United’s Business Resource Group for people of all abilities, employees help create a workplace environment where all can strive to achieve their maximum potential and support our commitment to being an ally for customers with disabilities.
For the eighth straight year, United was recognised as the Best Place to Work for Disability Inclusion and earned a top score on the Disability Equality Index benchmarking tool, a joint initiative of the American Association of People with Disabilities and Disability:IN, to advance the inclusion of people with disabilities.