as a manual wheelchair user myself, i can attest that the importance of having your wheelchair in the cabin is not so that you can use it to move into the cabin but as an extra insurance policy that the baggage handlers do not destroy your chair when they load it in the cargo. people who use wheelchairs treat the chair almost as an extension of thier bodies, since many of us simply would not be able to be mobile in any meaningful capacity without one. i have had my chair damaged once by an airline (CO) on a vacation and the last thing you want to worry about when you land in an unfamilar place is a place to fix whatever parts of your chair are damaged. as well, the wheelchair i own is about $2500 (it is a quickie XBR with a full suspension and aluminum frame and is almost worth being handicapped just to own one!) and the idea of using a steel hospital chair for mobility is about as appealing as being a porsche owner forced to drive a hyndai as a rental car when somone hits you. even more so, since i cannot walk and a chair is not a luxury item. my particular chair has quick release wheels and can collapse easily to fit into the storage closet typically used for suit bags without taking too much space for suits. i have never tried to but it into the overhead bin, although i am sure it may fit if i put the various pieces into different bins.
as to how i get on the plane, there are employees of the airline or airport specifically tasked to help someone like me transfer into a narrow chair/dolly that fits between the seats and i get on either first or last. as to whether or not the particular airline has a foldable narrow chair on board, that almost always depends. i doubt most commuter planes like american eagle have them. i have flown extensively overseas and i can say that as of a few years ago LOT did not have this option on ORD
, but QUANTAS did and the crew were more than happy to assist me to the lavatory (required on LAX
, trust me).
as for the ADA (and i know something about this, i am an attorney), i can say that much of what i can describe as abuse of this statute has to deal with people on the fringes of physical disabilites claiming some entitlement under this statute when plainly they are not often disabled in a way that impairs activites of their daily lives. as someone who requires wider doors, grab handles in public restrooms, elevators, etc, the ADA has dramatically improved my quality of life.