May 08, 2023

Delta working to develop in

Delta Air Lines is debuting a prototype of an airplane seat with a wheelchair restraint this week, saying it plans to work on testing and certification to allow passengers in certain powered wheelchairs to use them on flights.

The seat has been developed by Air4All, a U.K.-based air travel accessibility consortium, in partnership with Atlanta-based Delta's aircraft interiors subsidiary Delta Flight Products. It's designed to convert a standard passenger seat into a wheelchair restraint.

Delta says development of the seat will still require about 18 months of work on design, testing, safety and regulatory reviews, as well as consideration of customer experience factors.

The airline is showing the seat prototype at the Aircraft Interiors Expo in Hamburg, Germany this week.

The design "offers new possibilities for customers with disabilities to enjoy a travel experience they truly deserve," said Delta Flight Products President Rick Salanitri in a written statement. "Air4All is collaborating with DFP and our strong production and manufacturing capabilities to explore new ways to deliver equal access to comfort, safety, and dignity for all customers."

Delta also has an advisory board on disability made up of frequent fliers with different disabilities to provide recommendations on policies, procedures, training and customer experience.

Air4All is a consortium that includes industrial design consulting firm PriestmanGoode and wheelchair manufacturer Sunrise Medical.

The unveiling of the wheelchair restraint prototype comes after U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg last year pledged to work toward a way to allow passengers to stay in their wheelchairs during flights.

"No other form of transportation — trains, buses boats — forces you to give up your mobility device when you board. The same should be true for airlines," Buttigieg said.

"In the months and years ahead we will begin laying the groundwork to allow passengers to stay in their personal wheelchairs when they fly. It won't happen overnight," he said. But "we must continue working toward that goal."

Air travel problems for passengers in wheelchairs have become a more prominent issue for airlines.

Wheelchairs damaged during transport in the cargo hold cause major disruptions for passengers who depend on them for mobility. Disability rights advocates have raised concerns about the risk of injury to passengers being transferred to and from aircraft seats, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation.

In the first three months of this year, 2,547 wheelchairs and scooters were delayed, damaged, pilfered or lost by airlines — making up 1.5% of all wheelchairs and scooters brought onto planes, according to federal data.

Access to lavatories on narrow-body aircraft is another issue that prompted the DOT to host a virtual public meeting last year on the difficulties of air travel for people who use wheelchairs.

The DOT last year published an Airline Passengers with Disabilities Bill of Rights to help ensure that airlines uphold rights of travelers with disabilities.

About the Author

Business reporter Kelly Yamanouchi covers airlines and the airport including Atlanta-based Delta Air Lines, one of the world's largest carriers, and Hartsfield-Jackson, the world's busiest airport. She has covered airlines for about 20 years, graduated from Harvard and has a master's degree from Northwestern.

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