BOSTON – A congressman heading to Italy to visit military bases missed his flight overseas when the airline staff wouldn’t let him past the check-in counter.
Rep. Jim Langevin, a Democrat representing Rhode Island, is a quadriplegic and uses a wheelchair. In a tweet sharing the story about what happened, Langevin said the issue was that the airline did not want to allow his wheelchair on the plane.
Langevin, who is a member of the House Armed Services Committee, was going to Italy to lead a congressional delegation with the U.S. Navy, The Providence Journal reported.
“It’s outrageous that airlines are blocking wheelchair users from traveling with FAA-compliant mobility devices,” Langevin said Monday in a tweet. “If I was denied boarding on a government trip, what do you think is happening to people with disabilities on vacations, visiting family, or traveling for work?”
The issue was that the wheelchair used lithium-ion batteries, The Washington Post reported. While both United States and international aviation officials have ruled it is safe to transport the batteries, the gate agents working for Lufthansa at Boston Logan International Airport cited safety concerns that the battery could overheat and catch fire.
On Twitter, Langevin said: “My wheelchair uses a type of lithium-ion battery which (the Federal Aviation Administration) has deemed safe to fly. I had proof that the battery is cleared to travel. I even called the inventor of my wheelchair to explain the safety guidelines to airline staff. And still, I wasn’t allowed to board. Let’s call this what it is — discrimination against people with disabilities.”
My wheelchair uses a type of lithium-ion battery which @FAANews has deemed safe to fly.
I had proof that the battery is cleared to travel. I even called the inventor of my wheelchair to explain the safety guidelines to the airline staff.
And still, I wasn't allowed to board.
— Jim Langevin (@JimLangevin) September 12, 2022
“I was extremely disappointed, to say the least, since it’s not the first time I’ve encountered a problem with the chair,” Langevin told The Providence Journal.
A spokesperson for Lufthansa told The Washington Post that the company was “regretful” over the error.
“At times, there have been challenges when it comes to customers traveling with lithium batteries, as there are complex and detailed rules and regulations related to this,” Christina Semmel, a Lufthansa spokesperson, told The Washington Post. “We apologize for the error made due to the misinterpretation of the technical guidelines.”
Semmel told The Washington Post that employees would undergo a “comprehensive review” of the rules to prevent future incidents.
Langevin missed his flight but was eventually able to make it to Italy. A staff member was able to get another wheelchair from his home and bring it to the airport, The Providence Journal reported. Langevin took a later flight on a different airline, which forced him to land at a different airport — three hours away from his intended destination.
“It made for a long day,” Langevin told The Providence Journal. “it’s very expensive to be disabled. Not everyone has a backup chair.”
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