Passengers fake disabilities to get express treatment through airport security

Kelly O'Mara

Getting through airport security lines takes a long time and can cause more than a mild headache. Unfortunately, some unscrupulous passengers have devised a way to get around that wait.

The New York Times is reporting that there's been and increase in recent years in the number of people faking injuries or disabilities in order to get whisked through security.

Per federal law requiring accommodations for disabled passengers, every airline provides wheelchairs and wheelchair assistants upon request — without proof of injury or disability. American Airlines, for instance, directed me to their policy on boarding assistance. The policy is: Just ask for it. And some passengers are taking advantage of that.

According to flight attendants and wheelchair assistants, it's fairly common to see people jump out of a wheelchair after getting through security, or to have people claim to need a chair to get on the plane — but not to get off.

Kelly Skyles, an attendant for American Airlines, jokes that they call those "miracle flights," because they cure the sick. Disabled passengers are first to board flights, but last to get off — a likely cause of the miracle.

In those instances, wheelchairs that have been called to the gate for the flight's arrival (based on how many were needed at departure) are left waiting for disabled passengers who simply walk off the plane. On certain flights there can be a number of empty wheelchairs waiting at arrival.

Many wheelchair attendants, who rely on tips, look the other way when their "injured" charge jumps up to grab their luggage.

There are no statistics on how many people are faking disabilities or injuries, though the airlines suggest that it's a small number of how many people request assistance. They do, however, see a rise in the number of requests when lines are longer — suggesting some funny business going on.

"We respect our passengers and trust their integrity when they ask for wheelchair assistance. And we hope the service would not be abused for convenience," said Jean Medina of Airlines for America, an industry trade organization.

Of course, the standard for what will get you whisked to the front of the line can depend on the TSA agent in charge. So, if you're going to fake an injury, fake a big one.

When my husband broke his femur, he (legitimately) got in a wheelchair at the airport and was quickly wheeled to the front of the line and waved on through. His five friends, all able-bodied, also got the luxury treatment and were expressed through security. But, when he was on crutches? He was told to wait in line like everybody else.