People are using wheelchairs at airports to get through security faster

People are using wheelchairs at airports to get through security faster

People are using wheelchairs at airports to get through security faster

That person whizzing past you in a wheelchair at the airport? There’s a chance they’re perfectly OK, and just need an excuse to get through security faster.

At least, that’s the shocking news from several U.S. flight crew members. “We often found as flight crew that we had performed miracles on flights, and people are able to walk off the flight who were not able to walk on,” one flight crew member told CBS This Morning this week.

People in wheelchairs or with disabilities may be able to board a plane first, when they need more time to do so, said Gary Leff, author of the travel website ViewFromtheWing.com. “How beneficial it is will vary by airline,” he said. In many cases, you are able to skip the security line at U.S. airports or, at the very least, roll through customs and security more easily, he said.

Passengers don’t have to show any proof of a disability or injury, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation. They just have to “self-identify” as a passenger with a disability, and airlines are required to provide assistance, including help to get from a terminal entrance to a gate location, and from the gate to your seat on the plane.

The good news: Fakers probably don’t take advantage of the system often, Leff said. For starters, if you know a wheelchair gives you early boarding access, you’re probably a pretty savvy traveler already, meaning you’re savvy enough to sign up for other priority services like TSA PreCheck or Global Entry, Leff said. “Among frequent flyer circles, this is not a common recommended practice or a common travel hack,” he said.

Trying to get through the airport quickly, but honestly? Here are a few tips.

Ask for extra time to board your flight

If there is some reason you need more time to get onto the plane, such as luggage that is difficult to handle, or you have a medical condition, ask airline personnel if you would be able to board early, Leff added. “It’s not necessarily something you need a wheelchair for.”

Check if the airport or airline has VIP services

You may be able to pay for special services like golf-cart escorts through the airport, Leff said. When he flies to Bangkok, he asks for a golf cart to take him and his wife through the airport because it’s so large, he said.

American Airlines ticker offers “five star service” at some airports, which includes airport lounge access, assistance connecting to other airlines and an escort to baggage claim. But travelers must make a reservation at least 24 hours in advance in the U.S., and it costs $350.

Become a frequent flyer — and then hope

If you fly regularly with one airline, the airline may contact you with free offers like a car that will drive you from airplane to airplane on the tarmac, so you don’t have to navigate the airport, Leff said. Delta 360 DAL, -1.14% is one such invite-only service that offers “an exclusive suit of benefits and services,” according to the airline.

Purchase TSA PreCheck or Global Entry

Purchase TSA PreCheck, or Global Entry, which promise to cut down on time in line. PreCheck costs $85 and lasts five years. Global Entry, which is recommended for international flyers, costs $100 and also lasts five years. Some credit cards reimburse cardholders for those costs, including Chase’s Sapphire Reserve JPM, -0.98%

Check in advance how long you’ll have to wait

You can also check how long security waiting times are before even arriving at the airport, suggested Meg Butler, manager editor at the travel website FlyerTalk. The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has an app that tells travelers how long waits are, and there are independent apps like MiFlight and GateGuru that offer similar services, plus some additional features.

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Maria LaMagna

Maria LaMagna covers personal finance for MarketWatch in New York.

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