Pushed along in the wheelchairs each airline provides by request, they whizzed past the line to a specially designated and briskly efficient Transportation Security Administration screener. Once cleared, the woman suddenly sprang up from her wheelchair, hoisted two huge carry-on bags from the magnetometer’s* conveyor belt and plopped back in the wheelchair. She gave a nod to the person pushing her, and they rolled off to the gate...
The practice, tacitly endorsed by a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy from wheelchair pushers, who sometimes receive tips, is so commonplace that airport workers can predict spikes in wheelchair requests when security is particularly backed up, and flight attendants see it so often on certain routes — including to the Philippines, Egypt and the Dominican Republic, for which sometimes a dozen people in wheelchairs will be waiting to board — they’ve dubbed them “miracle flights.” “We’d say there was a miracle because they all needed a wheelchair getting on, but not getting off,” said Kelly Skyles, a flight attendant and the national safety and security coordinator for the Association of Professional Flight Attendants...The actual reason, she guessed, is that passengers in wheelchairs are the first to board but the last to debark, meaning what is a shortcut on one end is a time-waster on the other end. As a result, wheelchairs brought to the arrival gate, one for each passenger who used one during boarding, are left unused as their intended occupants walk by...As security checks have become increasingly stringent, the number of people exploiting the loophole seems to have risen, said Peter Greenberg, the travel editor for CBS News and the author of a dozen books on travel. He said it was common to see departure gates full of wheelchairs, especially in places like Palm Beach, where populations are older. Once the plane has taxied to the gate in Florida, however, many supposedly injured passengers exit on foot...Identifying abuse is difficult, because not all disabilities are visible. Some older passengers who are able to walk short distances, for example, may not be able to stand for the long periods sometimes required in security lines...Attendants, many of whom sit idle for long periods of time waiting for a customer, are, in a sense, encouraged to look the other way when a healthy person requests wheelchair service. Most earn between $9 and $14 an hour and rely heavily on tips.
Further details at the New York Times.
* Is "magnetometer" the correct word for the security device?