For passengers with limited mobility, airplane travel can be complicated. Plus, airlines in the United States haven’t exactly perfected customer service for consumers with disabilities. According to a Transporation.gov report, in 2022, U.S. airlines mishandled 11,389 wheelchairs and scooters, which equated to about 1.54 per 100 loaded onto aircrafts. But, now, air travelers with disabilities are hopeful that a chair in development could improve accessibility. Delta Flight Products (DFP), a subsidiary of Delta Air Lines, recently unveiled a first-of-its-kind prototype of a plane seat inclusively designed to allow passengers who use power wheelchairs to remain in their own wheelchairs throughout the entire flying experience.
For those who’ve previously faced challenges with airline transfer chairs, a smoother flight may soon be to come! DFP showcased the innovative inclusive design at the Aircraft Interiors Expo (AIX), the world’s leading marketplace for airlines and the supply chain to connect. In Hamburg, Germany in early June 2023, approximately 12,000 attendees engaged with 400 travel-related exhibitors showcasing cabin concepts, including the DFP seat and other modernizations, such as LED lighting systems and individually adjustable microclimate seating.
Taking Accessibility to New Heights
To develop this accessible airplane seat, DFP consulted with Delta’s Advisory Board on Disability, and also partnered with Air4All, a UK-based consortium dedicated to accessible travel.
“DFP delivers highly engineered products and services to fill service gaps, solve operational challenges and transform the experience of customers and crewmembers,” said Rick Salanitri, President of DFP. “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. This patented design offers new possibilities for customers with disabilities to enjoy a travel experience they truly deserve.”
The patented design, as described in a DFP press release, offers comfort and safety for all passengers by providing access to headrests, center console tray tables and cocktail tables that adjust to serve passengers with wheelchairs in place. The product also enables airlines to retain the design of their cabin on every seat. The company believes that implementation of the seat will also facilitate a more seamless boarding and disembarking experience.
“An innovation like this in air travel provides those with reduced mobility a safe and comfortable way for them to travel and remain in their own power wheelchair,” said Chris Wood, Founder of Flying Disabled, which is one of the Air4All members. “It has taken truly a collaborative effort to develop this seat and we believe this product provides an optimal solution for all parties.”
Power Wheelchair Users are On-Board
John Morris, an avid traveler and accessibility blogger, attended the AIX Expo. The triple amputee was among the first wheelchair users to try out the accessible prototype seat.
“I first attempted to do so with my own wheelchair, a Permobil F3 with a wheelbase that is 24 inches wide,” Morris shared on his website, WheelChairTravel.org. “Although my Permobil proved to be a few inches too wide to fully enter the space in this prototype, the Delta Flight Products team assured me that future iterations will be expanded to accommodate a larger range of wheelchairs. The additional space necessary to accommodate complex rehab power wheelchairs like mine could potentially be found through a combination of narrowing the console between seats, reducing airplane aisle width (which is typically wider in first class and premium economy than in standard economy cabins), and narrowing the adjacent window seat.”
DFP says the seat will undergo final design tweaks and validation, followed by testing and certification programs. Still, likely many other travelers with limited mobility issues, Morris expressed optimism about the potential for much-needed accessibility improvements.
Would an accessible feature like this seat improve travel opportunities for you? What other airplane advancements would be beneficial for members of the disability community?