Today I’m flying out of LAX and into Gatwick, a trip I’ve taken before. This time, however, I am traveling with my new electric mobility scooter for the first time. In my naivety, I thought this wouldn’t be a difficult thing to do since I made sure that I got a scooter that would fold away and with a battery that met the requirements for plane travel. Of course, I was wrong. There was no way of registering that I was bringing the scooter on the airlines online system so I had to phone them. It started easily enough, with her taking my details and finding my reservation. She said she needed to ask for advice from a colleague about what she needed to record, and I got a bit worried that she hadn’t dealt with mobility devices before. My experience is that people that aren’t used to dealing with mobility devices don’t know the rules particularly well, and argue that you can’t do things that are actually permitted.
The first stumbling block was her telling me that I needed to check in my scooter at the baggage counter. I wanted to take it to the gate since I prefer not to have my mobility dependent on wheelchair assistance that as often as not treats me as luggage. We had a short back and forth about why I had to do that before she went off again to consult a colleague. While she was on the phone I found the section of the Norwegian website that said that in most places I could gate check my scooter. When she came back she reiterated that I had to check it in, but when I read her the section she recanted and said that I might be able to take it though if the staff at check in permitted it.
Then she asked what kind of battery I had. I told her that it was a non-spillable lithium Ion battery 288 watt hours. At that point she said that I wasn’t permitted to travel with a battery over 100 watt hours. I said that was incorrect and that the regulations state that I’m permitted to carry up to 300 watt hours. Unfortunately, this isn’t displayed anywhere on Norwegian’s website – though several other airlines do include this information. I told her that I have a letter from my consultant and a safety certificate for the battery. She said that I was permitted 2 batteries of up to 160 watt hours, but that they couldn’t allow me to take a single battery of 300 watt hours. The conversation got pretty circular – with me telling her that the FAA regulations said I was allowed a 300 battery and her telling me that it wasn’t possible. In the end she said she could add the electric wheelchair to my booking, but I may not be permitted to take the batteries because they were too large. It was very frustrating indeed. Not least because I was on the phone for a good half hour and got absolutely nowhere.
At that point, I decided to go look into the regulations further. Fortunately, the scooter manufacturer had a link to the FAA regs and the ‘pack safe‘ information. It is the US regulations that apply, specifically 49 CFR 175.10(a)(17). It says I can have a 300watt battery and a spare. The other thing I found when looking around the website was a phone number for help dealing with disability related issues in travel. I called it and a delightful woman answered, took my details and said she would call Norwegian on my behalf. I should be hearing from her later today.
At this stage I’m pretty sure that I will get on the plane with the scooter and batteries, but I’m a bit pissed that it has taken this much time and physical/emotional energy to sort it out. This is disability work. Stuff that you have to do in order to do perfectly ordinary things that everyone else takes for granted. It is time-consuming, anxiety producing and disabling. It doesn’t need to be this way. I’m frustrated that it is.