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Airport adds luggage carriers to wheelchairs

By Curt Yeomans

cyeomans@news-daily.com

Wheelchair-bound air travelers soon will not have to carry luggage in their laps through the airport.

In the past, when wheelchair-bound travelers arrived at a gate at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, their carry-on luggage was put in their laps as they were pushed around the airport. At baggage claim, additional luggage might be added.

"We received reports from our employees that these people looked uncomfortable with all of that luggage in their lap," said Doug Strachan, the airport's creative innovations manager. "We thought there had to be a better way to get them through the airport with as little discomfort as possible."

On July 17, officials from the airport, the Invacare Corporation, Aviation Mobility, PrimeFlight Aviation Services, DAL Global Services, and AirTran Airways, gathered in the atrium of Hartsfield-Jackson to unveil a trio of re-fitted wheelchairs.

The new rear-carrier wheelchairs have straps on their backs, called rear luggage carriers, which allow people with disabilities to be transported through the airport, without having to carry their luggage in their laps.

Airport officials have been working with Invacare in planning the rear luggage carriers for the last nine months, said David Gilmore, Invacare's manager of mobility services. "We had a couple of designs before that, but we finally came up with a design that met what the airport was looking for," Gilmore added.

The wheelchairs have two straps, which are made from the same materials from which seat belt straps are made, going horizontally across the back of the wheelchair. These straps act as a base which the luggage sits on. Two additional straps are located midway up the back of the chair, and they reach around the luggage and connect to each other via Velcro strips.

Gilmore said the rear luggage carriers can handle luggage which is 21 inches wide, and 18 inches deep, with unlimited height. "There is supposed to be a 50-pound capacity, but I've stood on it and I weigh 175 pounds, so this is very sturdy," he said.

By mid-August, the airport will have 132 refitted wheelchairs, at a cost to the airport of $61.50 per chair, Strachan said. Officials from both the airport, and Invacare, said they believe Hartsfield-Jackson is the first U.S. airport to put rear luggage carriers on wheelchairs.

"This is another example of Hartsfield-Jackson's commitment to constantly improving the customer experience by making ordinary experience extraordinary," said Arnaldo Ruiz, the airport's assistant general manager.

"A major element of customer service is to help our customers effortlessly and easily navigate through our terminals."