Wheelchairs Now — airline

Agents at Calgary Airport and United Airlines Refused Amputee's Lithium Battery for Scooter

Stearn Hodges with his wife amputee refused at airport because of lithium battery for wheelchair

Stearn Hodge lost his right leg and left arm in a workplace accident in 1984. Due to the risk of infection, he can not wear or use his prosthetic legs for long periods of time. So he uses a scooter powered by lithium batteries. 

When Stearn tried to get on his flight from Calgary Airport, Canada, to Tulsa, Oklahoma, for a holiday to celebrate his 43th wedding anniversary with wife Jan, he was told the batteries were not allowed on board the plane by a security agent at the Calgary International Airport and a representative from United Airlines.

However, that is WRONG.  Stearn Hodge's battery was allowed as long as he brought it onto the plane as a carry on. 

The agent with the Canadian Air Transport Security Authority (CATSA) and a United Airlines official cited fire safety concerns over the potentially volatile batteries - even though the Hodges had secured the required written permission from the airline beforehand. 

While lithium-ion batteries are a potential fire hazard, global standards issued by the International Air Transport Association (IATA) allow people with disabilities to travel with compact lithium batteries for medical devices in carry-on luggage.

Hodge said that neither CATSA or United Airlines officials would listen to or read his written approval from the airline and his IATA documents in support.

Unable to move around without his scooter when they got to their hotel, Hodge was forced to crawl on the floor in front of his wife to use the bathroom.

Stearn Hodges forced to crawl on the floor because United Airlines and Security officals at Calgary airport refused his lithium battery for his travel scooter, when it was allowed

He spent much of the holiday in bed - something he described as "the most humiliating experience I can think of."  

Now the former contractor wants his case heard by the Canadian Human Rights Commission, and told CBA: "It unmasks how real my disability is… I haven't been the same since."  

To add further insult, after being told he couldn't bring his batteries on board, a CATSA agent suggested he get a wheelchair instead. 

"How's a one-armed guy going to run a wheelchair? How am I going to go down a ramp and brake with one hand? But that shouldn't even have to come up," he said.

Hodge's wife Jan had recently undergone cancer treatment, which affected her spine, meaning she couldn't push a wheelchair for her husband either.

In an email sent to Hodge by a United Airlines complaint resolution official, they said: "it appears we were in violation of federal disability requirements," and offered an $800 travel certificate and apologized for the "inconvenience."  

"Inconvenience is when it rains on your holiday," said Hodge. "This was a… life-changing moment for me and my wife."

On May 9, Hodge's lawyer, John Burns, will ask a Federal Court judge to compel the commission to hear the case.

"It's a failure of the Canadian Human Rights Commission to grant access to the remedy that the statute provides," said Burns.

The Canadian Human Rights Act allows for up to $20,000 in damages for each count of pain and suffering, with a further maximum of $20,000 if the discrimination is 'willful or reckless.'

Please do your due diligence in making sure your product and battery are allowed. Something Mr. Hodges did. We urge anyone flying with a mobility device with a litium battery that are allowed on a commercial airplane to not let airport security or airline representatives to refuse your device or battery. Know your rights!

Helpful Tips for Traveling on an Airline with Your EZ Lite Cruiser

Let's face it -- traveling by Airplane is stressful enough for all of us.  There's likely not a person on this earth that enjoys the hassles that go into traveling by air, and worse yet, having to take a mobility aid like a power wheelchair along for the ride can make it much worse.  Luckily, and hopefully, you have an EZ Lite Cruiser which can be easily folded for transportation.  

One of the most commonly asked questions we get is whether the EZ Lite Cruiser and its Lithium Battery are permitted on an airplane.  The answer is "YES!"  Our 10 Ah batteries are within the US Department of Transportation guidelines on lithium batteries for air travel.   

Lithium-ion battery-powered wheelchairs or mobility aids:
  • For lithium-ion battery powered wheelchair or mobility aids:
    • Visual inspection, including removal of the battery where necessary, reveals no obvious defects.
    • Battery terminals are protected from short circuits (e.g., by being enclosed within a battery container that is securely attached to the mobility aid).
    • The pilot-in-command is advised, either orally or in writing, prior to departure, as to the location of the battery aboard the aircraft.
    • The wheelchair or mobility aid is loaded, stowed, secured and unloaded in an upright position and in a manner that prevents unintentional activation and protects it from damage.
  • A lithium-metal (non-rechargable) battery-powered is forbidden aboard a passenger-carrying aircraft.
  • A wheelchair or other mobility aid when carried as checked or carry-on baggage:
    • The wheelchair or mobility aid is designed and constructed in a manner to allow for stowage in either a cargo compartment or in the passenger cabin.
    • The lithium-ion battery and any spare batteries are carried in the same manner as other spare lithium-ion batteries are.

Now that we know the batteries conform to US Department of Transportation regulations, to get specific limitations, we turn to the individual airlines for their specific restrictions and specifications.  For our purposes here, we will use a couple of major North American carriers -- Delta and United Airlines for our purposes.   Each one has very similar restrictions, but all generally follow the same accord. 

1. Delta Airlines Lithium Battery Regulations

Click on the link above and scroll down to "WHEELCHAIRS/MOBILITY AIDS WITH LITHIUM-ION BATTERIES" to expand the notes:

Lithium-ion batteries that power mobility devices and are within the federal restrictions listed below are allowed on passenger aircraft.

For collapsible mobility aids, customers will be allowed two (2) spare batteries if less than 160 WH for collapsible mobility aids, or one (1) spare battery if less than 300 WH.
For mobility aids where the lithium battery is installed as an integral part of the device, there is no battery size limit.
Other Lithium-ion Battery Requirements:
The battery terminals must be protected from short circuiting.
The battery must have been tested per UN Part III, Section 38.3.

2. United Airlines Lithium Battery Regulations 

Click on the link above and scroll down to the area pertaining to "Lithium ion battery" which reads: 

Lithium ion battery: Lithium ion batteries are classified independently of other battery types. Lithium batteries may overheat and ignite in certain conditions and, once ignited, may be difficult to extinguish. Lithium batteries are considered a hazardous material for which the following restrictions apply:

  • There must be at least one effective means designed into the wheelchair or mobility aid in order to prevent accidental activation or possible short-circuiting
  • If you have a collapsible mobility device, the battery must be removed and cannot exceed 300 watt hours.
  • If you have a non-collapsible device, Federal Regulations allow for one large lithium ion battery to be transported installed in the device and up to two spare batteries to be transported in carry-on baggage. There is no watt hour limit for the battery installed in the device. If you have one spare battery, it must not exceed 300 watt hours. If you have two spare batteries, they must not exceed 160 watt hours each.

The watt-hour rating is a measure by which lithium ion batteries are regulated. If you are unsure of the watt-hour rating of your lithium ion battery, contact the manufacturer of your device. Lithium ion batteries manufactured after January 1, 2009, are required to be marked with the watt-hour rating.

If you are not using one of these carriers, but another different carrier, which may be a smaller airline, you will likely find the same information they have posted on their website regarding their own lithium battery restrictions.  If by chance they do not have this information posted on their website, it is prudent to call and ask for this information.  If you reach a representative that is unaware of this type of information, you should ask to speak to a supervisor, and they will in most cases have that information to give to you.  If the airline requires more information, such as the UN 38.3 Air Cargo Battery Test report, or a Material Safety Data Sheet, please contact us, and we can provide this documentation to you for our batteries.  Please note, this is specific to EZ Lite Cruiser batteries, and not other batteries.  Most airlines do not require this level of information, but if they ask for it, we certainly have it to provide to them.

Here are some other helpful tips when traveling with a light weight and fold-able power wheelchair, like the EZ Lite Cruiser:

1. When making your reservation, or after it has been done, you can add some a note to the itinerary to let the airline know you are traveling with a power wheelchair.  Airlines are very compassionate to those with the need for mobility aids, and will go out of their way to assist.  By adding this information to your itinerary, the clerk at check-in will be ready to assist in taking the power chair from you there, and arranging for the airline to give you a 'lift' to the gate, or they will ensure that you can get through security and ride your power chair all the way up to the gate.

2. When it is time to give your EZ Lite Cruiser power chair to the baggage handlers, we recommend disconnecting the joystick from the arm rest, and securing it with some bubble wrap, and storing it either between the seat cushion and back support cushion, or tucking it away in the storage compartment underneath the seat, where the battery would go.  This will ensure your joystick is not damaged while the chair is in the possession of the airlines baggage handlers. 

3. You will need to disconnect the battery from your EZ Lite Cruiser, and bring it on board the airplane.  As you would disconnect it any other time, simply pull apart the two connectors and take the battery off your chair.  The battery should be stored in the convenient carrying case that comes with your battery.  This makes it easy to bring it on board the airplane in your carry-on.  Some airlines go as far as needing to have the battery connectors taped up to ensure there is no short circuit of it, which is easily done with a strip of electrical tape. 

Now, if by chance your EZ Lite Cruiser is damaged by the airlines, do not worry.  The airlines in virtually every case will own up to the fact that it was damaged during transit, and will pay to replace any damaged parts or in a case of total damage, will replace the chair for you in full.  

There are essentially two major companies that are contracted by the airlines to deal with these types of claims.  

A - Global Repair Group, based out of Northbrook, IL., has been in business for many years and is one of the trusted places to go for repairs and service with an Airline claim.  They have a nationwide network of technicians located throughout the US and are available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

B - ScootAround, based out of Winnipeg, Manitoba in Canada, has also been a staple in the industry, assisting users who travel with mobility aids on airlines.  They can help with claims for anyone across North America, and are also available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week for your convenience.

When you reclaim your power chair from the airline, inspect it right away to make sure it works properly and look it over to see if there is any damage.  If there is damage, you should notify an airline representative right away, so that they can document the problem and they will let you know who to contact regarding the claim.  In all likelihood, one of the two companies, Global Repair Group or ScootAround, mentioned above, will assist with the claim, and we will assist with the process of getting replacement parts for your EZ Lite Cruiser to assist in the service and maintenance process, or getting you a new EZ Lite Cruiser as a total replacement, if that were to happen. 

If you have any further questions about travel with your EZ Lite Cruiser power wheelchair, please do Contact Us, and we'll be glad to assist.

Safe Travels!