With the crowds and the rules and the funny smell, we can all agree that airports can be pretty horrible places. But that doesn't give you a free pass to be a horrible person.
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Evidently, there's a serious rash of passengers who think they don't need to wait in airport lines like everybody else and figured out a neat trick to breeze through. Just hop in a wheelchair and some nameless airport employee will take you from the ticket counter, through security, all the way to your gate. And then you get to get on the plane first!
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This is not a new trick, but the practice has evidently become popular enough to warrant a New York Times trend piece. We'll be the first to tell you, by the way, that New York Times trend pieces don't necessarily cover things that are actually trends. Based on the flight attendant, airport employees and travel experts the newspaper talked to, though, it does sort of seem like kind of a lot of people are doing this lately:
The practice, tacitly endorsed by a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy from wheelchair pushers, who sometimes receive tips, is so commonplace that airport workers can predict spikes in wheelchair requests when security is particularly backed up, and flight attendants see it so often on certain routes — including to the Philippines, Egypt and the Dominican Republic, for which sometimes a dozen people in wheelchairs will be waiting to board — they’ve dubbed them “miracle flights.”
“We’d say there was a miracle because they all needed a wheelchair getting on, but not getting off,” said Kelly Skyles, a flight attendant … “Not only do we serve them beverages and ensure their safety — now we’re healing the sick.”
Once again, this is a horrible thing to do. Like stealing an old lady's seat on the subway or pushing a child out of the way to catch a fly ball, nobody likes the conspicuously selfish one. Even Disney World caught wind of this wheelchair scam and had to start issuing special passes to people who legitimately could not wait in lines, for health reasons or otherwise. And don't forget: the airport pays people to drive those wheelchairs for a reason. Some people can't walk!
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So if you feel comfortable taking advantage of the handicapped, by all means, save yourself a few minutes at LaGuardia and hope in a chair. If you're a decent human being and still don't want to wait in line, it turns out there are a ton of programs that let you skip the lines. You don't even have to tip anybody.