Wednesday, February 5, 2020
Lithium Lunacy at LAX
A couple of years ago, I got tired of pushing a manual chair with Tim on board for long trips. I looked into light-weight, power travel chairs and...lo and behold...I actually found a couple. We took the plunge and bought one that would allow Tim to be his own driver on these trips and my back muscles would get a break from pushing all that weight around all day long.
You can see our story on that travel chair here.
Since then, we have traveled by air with that chair to several destinations across America, Europe, and Central America and on several airlines many times...including our favorite of Southwest...with no issues at all.
The airlines have simply asked us to remove the lithium batteries from the chair, carry them onboard, and store them in a bag that prevents their contacts from touching anything. We do this handily with a canvas bag my wife made for them which has two compartments, one for each battery, which keeps them secured and separate from each other.
This has never been a problem, until now.
At the beginning of our trip to Atlanta, we did the usual preflight protocols with the Southwest gate agent and then went to relax and wait for our flight to board at Los Angeles' terminal 2. When it came time to preboard, the gate agent came up to ask us about our wheelchair and batteries.
"I need to ask you about your wheelchair batteries...how many volts are they and how many watts?"
"I don't know offhand but we remove them from the chair when flying and carry them on."
"I need to know or you may not be able to take them."
"We've flown several times with them, including on Southwest, and have been told they're OK and we just need to remove them and carry them on."
She goes off to check. I take the time to whip out my phone and go to GeoCruiser's website to get the better specs.
When she comes back, I show here..."24 volts for both batteries (12 for each battery - Ed). 144 watts. Take a look, this is from the manual."
"You could have just typed that up,"...pretty impressive since it was a PDF with full color Geo Cruiser logos and all..."the batteries need to have a sticker on them with that information."
"Ma'am, this is how the batteries came. I didn't just type that up, especially on this phone. We traveled with them many times, with no problem. Look, they're here in this separate bag, complete unable to touch anything else."
At that point, it was time to board the plane. They let us go down the jetway. The lady comes back down..."we can't let you take the batteries."
I called Geocruiser and got Manny from customer support on the line.
"Manny, I'm at the doorway of a Southwest jet and they don't want to let us on with the Geocruiser batteries, can you explain it to this lady?"
I hand the phone to the lady who promptly starts talking to Manny while she walks away with my phone back into the terminal. In the meantime, others on the plane are telling us to get on and take our seats. This photo was taken while we were waiting for them to come back with our phone and decision.
I'm getting ready to pull the CRO option (each airline must have a Complaint Resolution Officer available to handle issues with special needs passengers at all times).
A Southwest terminal employee comes on and says we can travel but not with the batteries, we'll just have to do without when we get to our destination. I explain that we're to be gone over two weeks and that will leave us without a truly working wheelchair. She goes off to get a supervisor.
The supervisor shows up..."sir, you cannot travel with the batteries in the wheelchair. They must be removed (emphasis mine)."
I told her "they are right above our heads in a special bag we have for them in the bin. They've been out of the wheelchair since the beginning. We told your gate agent multiple times that they were removed and have never had a problem before. Would you like to see them?"
"That won't be necessary, I believe you. Have a nice flight."
One last thing from me..."then would you please tell your gate staff this and explain to them the policy so this doesn't happen again? Oh yeah, would you please return my phone to me?"
Phone returned, doors are closed, and we have an uneventful and easy flight to Atlanta.
Postscript...on arrival at Atlanta, the baggage handler brings us our chair and says "that's a cool chair, this is only the second time I've seen one."
As I put the batteries back in, I explain to him what happened back at LAX.
"That's silly," he says, "we had training on this particular chair. They should know better."
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