Florida family urges more 'battery awareness' on airlines |

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Florida family urges more 'battery awareness' on airlines |

TAMPA, Fla. — A family's travel experience at Tampa International Airport has them raising concerns about how important information about wheelchairs is distributed. 

Shannon Butler said her husband, Lawrence Butler, has multiple sclerosis (MS) and received his first motorized wheelchair earlier this month. 

"We were truly excited to get a power wheelchair," Butler said. "It was a refurbished chair, so we did not get the manual that came with it. The man just kind of showed me how to use it, how to take the batteries off, how to power it up." 

Last Wednesday, Lawrence and the couple's son were set to fly out of TPA on a Frontier Airlines flight to Cleveland. Unfamiliar with traveling with a motorized chair, Shannon said she researched the process ahead of time and provided plenty of time at the airport. 

"I made sure we got there two hours early," Shannon said. "At the gate, I asked the agents if there were any questions or concerns about the chair." 

After Lawrence and her son boarded the plane, she said her goodbyes and left the airport. Once she began driving away, she said she got a frantic call. 

"He called and said, 'Are the batteries lithium batteries?' And I said, 'I'm not completely sure. I don't think they are, but I'm not sure. I don't know what specific type they are.' And he said, 'Well if they're lithium batteries, they're going to take me off the plane,'" Shannon explained. 

Minutes later, Shannon said she pulled over and confirmed the batteries were not lithium, but crews had already removed Lawrence and their son from the flight. Shannon was frustrated she had not been made aware of lithium battery issues earlier on. 

"I did not know to check that," she said. "I looked everywhere and that hadn't come up. I didn't know that was something that was not allowed."

"It's something that needs to be done before 10 minutes before takeoff," Shannon explained. "Something we need to expressly show before we are in the moment of take off." 

The Federal Aviation Administration reports there have been 99 incidents involving lithium batteries on planes so far this year. The issues range from smoking to catching fire and even explosions. The sources range from e-cigarettes to wheelchairs. In February, the FAA said most wheelchair batteries are fine to stay installed, but lithium batteries must be removed from the chair ahead of time.

Adam Malone is a disability travel specialist who uses a wheelchair himself. He advises wheelchair-using travelers to over-communicate when possible. 

"Each airline has similar rules, but sometimes each individual carrier can be a little bit different," Malone said. "You have to make sure you call the airline beforehand. Most airlines like American and Delta have an accessibility number you can call." 

Frontier's website does not mention lithium batteries under its "wheelchair battery" information section.

However, in the statement, Frontier's Senior Director of Corporate Communications provided 10 Tampa Bay about this incident, they referenced the FAA regulations:

"There are FAA regulations surrounding the transport of specific types of batteries on airplanes. When customers are traveling with battery-powered mobility devices, such as a wheelchair, it is imperative for the customer to know what type of battery is powering the device. This may impact whether or not the device can be carried in the passenger cabin or if special handling is required. 

"Given that the customers were unsure of which battery type the wheelchair utilized, it was appropriate to preclude the device from flying for the safety of everyone on board. Once the needed information was obtained from the customers, they were accommodated on a later flight. We also provided $50 vouchers for future use to both members of the traveling party. We sincerely apologize for any inconvenience they may have experienced."

Now, the Butler family is calling for more transparency. 

"Nothing had been expressed to me that lithium was or was not allowed or anything," Shannon said. "I don't know if this is a newer thing that is happening, but it's just something that needs to be more expressly shown." 

To read the FAA information on battery-operated wheelchairs, click here. 

Florida family urges more 'battery awareness' on airlines |

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