Some travelers claim bogus disabilities to improve airport experience

(WTVM) - In airports across the country, passengers are frustrated by the wait to get on the airplane.

Now, it appears more and more people are finding a way around the wait by using a wheelchair, and they're not always disabled.

Walk through the airport and odds are you'll find yourself not only dodging crowds of people, but navigating around a growing number of wheelchairs.

"We've handled maybe a hundred wheelchairs a year. Now, there are certain times we can handle a hundred wheelchairs in a day," says Peter Scherrer, who manages a small airport. But he's not the only one scrambling.

One mid-sized airport says it keeps 300 wheelchairs on hand at all times now. And a large, major facility says it received 2,000 requests for special assistance every day. That's partially because more people with disabilities are traveling, but advocates are now blowing the whistle on able-bodied passengers who say they are playing the system to save time, or get on the plane first.

"People who don't really need special assistance or have a disability sometimes do say they're a person with a disability to go through that special line or to the head of the line to get through security quicker," says Kleo King of the United Spinal Association.

It's hard to say officially how many of the wheelchair requests are bogus, but King estimates it to be 15% nationwide.

That makes Barb Likos, an avid traveler and mom to a special needs child, very angry.

"When people abuse the system it makes it harder for my child to access the accommodations that he needs, and it's frustrating and it's rude," says Likos.

But the airlines say they feel grounded when it comes to identifying cheaters. By law, they are required to give assistance to anyone who asks, or risk hefty fines. And they have to be careful what they ask. They can't ask, 'What is your disability?' and invade people's privacy.

But advocates and airline personnel tell us they're hearing more complaints about so-called 'Miracle Flights'.

"It's a phrase that's coined by a lot of flight attendants. They see a person come on with a wheelchair and when they get to the destination, for some reason, they actually are able to walk again," says Scherrer.

That part really bothers Likos, who believes she has a simple solution.

"I think we need a universal disability pass. It's recognized legitimately throughout all the different places we would travel," she says.

It does exist in other countries, but the spinal association says there a no plans currently for that here. In the meantime, the honor system rules the runway.

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