A Flight-Delay Excuse I'd Never Heard Before
I have heard a lot of reasons for planes being delayed, but this was a new one. My Delta flight out of JFK was just about to push back from the gate when the captain made an announcement. He explained that there is a wheelchair on board every flight, and the one on this plane had had a malfunction – the handle broke, he said – which made it unusable. It didn’t seem to matter that no passengers on the flight had needed a wheelchair to board: the plane couldn’t take off, he said, until a replacement was brought on board.
How long could that possibly take? JFK is a big airport; there had to be lots of wheelchairs around.
The captain kept coming back onto the P.A. system to announce the progress. The ground crew found another chair, but it didn’t fit this plane. The ground crew heard of another plane nearby with a spare wheelchair, but that turned out to not be true.
The captain and the rest of the crew handled the delay about as well as it could be handled, but a few people got off the plane rather than keep waiting. Someone asked one flight attendant if the wheelchair was really so vital: couldn’t someone grant a dispensation to allow the flight to take off without it?
The flight attendant replied, a bit sternly, that the Americans With Disabilities Act expressly forbade the plane from taking off without the wheelchair. I know the A.D.A. hasn’t been a big winner in producing jobs for disabled workers and that it keeps doctors from treating disabled patients, but I didn’t know it could also ground a plane even if there are no disabled people on board. (I am not sure the flight attendant was 100% accurate; I don’t see a mention of this regulation in the A.D.A.)
Finally, 2.5 hours after our expected takeoff, Delta came up with another wheelchair that fit, and we headed for the runway.
On the bright side: the flight had wi-fi, so I was able to write this blog post at 35,000 feet, as we hurtled westward through the pitch-black sky.