- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 14, 2022

Rep. Jim Langevin, Rhode Island Democrat, was prevented from boarding a Lufthansa flight from Boston to Italy on Aug. 20 due to the lithium-ion batteries in his wheelchair.

Rep. Langevin, a quadriplegic, was flying to Italy on government business, examining overseas military bases as part of his work on the House Armed Services Committee.

Lithium-ion batteries have been cleared for transport aboard aircraft by the Federal Aviation Administration. In Rep. Langevin’s specific case, military leaders also called ahead to vouch for his iBot brand wheelchair’s safety and necessity.

“The ticket agent would not allow the chair to travel, saying the lithium-ion batteries weren’t going to be allowed on the plane,” Rep. Langevin told WJAR-TV, a Providence, Rhode Island NBC affiliate.

Rep. Langevin then produced an info card created by the wheelchair’s manufacturer explaining the wheelchair was safe. When the gate officials still did not budge, he even had a staffer call the inventor of the motorized wheelchair to have that man explain that the wheelchair was safe to fly.

“I even talked to the operations manager at the airport, who came out and said they don’t care what the FAA regulations are, these are what their safety protocols are, and they weren’t going to allow it to fly. Unfortunately, I missed my flight,” Rep. Langevin told WJAR-TV.

In a statement to WJAR-TV, Lufthansa commented that “Wheelchairs powered by lithium batteries that are removable have certain watt hour limits, while batteries that form a part of the chair and are designed not to be removed do not have watt hour limits. We apologize for the error made due to the misinterpretation of the technical guidelines.”

Rep. Langevin faced similar issues at the gate flying home from D.C. to Rhode Island in January.

“It’s not the first time I’ve encountered a problem with the chair,” Rep. Langevin told the Providence Journal.

The congressman had a staffer retrieve an extra chair from his residence and made a different flight three-and-a-half hours later.

“It’s very expensive to be disabled. Not everyone has a backup chair,” Rep. Langevin noted to the Providence Journal.

The Rhode Island representative has previously introduced legislation, namely the Air Carrier Access Amendments Act, to protect the rights of disabled people dealing with air travel.

“It’s one thing to make an apology. I want to see something substantial come out of this. This problem isn’t about me. I want this problem fixed for everyone,” Rep. Langevin said to the Providence Journal.

• Brad Matthews can be reached at bmatthews@washingtontimes.com.

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