The Miracle Flight Phenomenon

“It’s a miracle… They are healed!”

Those are the words I expected to hear uttered on several of my recent flights for you see, we had experienced the phenomenon that gate agents and flight attendants often call a “miracle flight”.

I haven’t often seen one myself, despite a couple thousand flights in the duration of my business travels.  But now I’m a believer.

On one flight, two women boarded who clearly were worse for the wear.  They needed wheelchair assistance and could barely lift their own boarding passes.  The poor wheelchair assistant carried their purses and everything to get them on the plane. Then, onboard, they had the flight attendant fetching things out of their bags in the overhead.

Fair enough.  It happens and its great to see the airline make accomodations.

But then…. a miracle happened.

We landed and they told the flight attendant to cancel their wheelchairs.  In an amazing feat of strength, one of them lifted all their bags out of the overhead bin while the other collected their canes and proceeded to physically push her way past those of us trying to exit row 1.

“If you don’t move, I’ll run over your foot”, one hissed at me pointing at her wheeled bag which she was pushing in front of her. I somehow got between her and the second one who was waving her cane from side to side trying to push past me while muttering about how rude it was not to let the older passengers deplane first.  And then they were gone – off the jetbridge faster than anyone could blink (and certainly faster than my normal power walk).

On another recent flight, at least a half dozen passengers boarded in a wheelchair.  On the ground, all but one refused the wheelchair upon arrival (despite having requested it) and were able to make their way off with the normal deplaning flow.

I have heard gate agents tell stories about how many more passengers need the wheelchair when early boarding is involved than when deplaning.  While I’ve personally used special assistance myself while flying after surgery, I always needed the same amount of assistance on both ends of the flight.

But the obvious “miracles”, well I haven’t seen that many of them and I’m truly curious what the disparity is.

Some would suggest something sinister such as a need to have the first grab at overhead bin space.  But I see so few special assistance passengers boarding with large carry-ons that I wonder if it is more of the hectic flow of boarding.  Or in the case of American, the number of flights that rush to board everyone and then leave passengers standing for long periods of time on the jet bridge.

I feel like airlines like Delta might have the right idea when they allow any passenger needing extra time to board first (even before first class or elites).  The boarding process doesn’t seem to take any longer and may cut down on the number of wheelchairs ordered.

Any insights out there in the airline or frequent travel community?  Please share!


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