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Originally published Monday, September 10, 2012 at 10:24 AM

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Some passengers stretch definition of 'disabled' for early boarding

In scramble to get seats, and carry-on luggage space, some Southwest Airlines travelers are categorizing themselves as disabled, says disgruntled frequent flier.

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Q: I fly on a weekly basis with Southwest Airlines. Out of all the big carriers (United, American and Delta), Southwest has figured out how to treat the business passenger well. My only concern with Southwest is their disabled preboarding policy.

Every time I fly, I am astonished by the increasing number of people claiming to be disabled and taking advantage of the preboarding. Let me be the first to say that I completely support preboarding for anyone legitimately battling a physical and/ or mental disability. What concerns me is that I have experienced on numerous occasions individuals, who claim eligibility for this policy, "spring out" of their wheelchairs and take off down the jetway like Fred Astaire without any noticeable challenge. My concern is that people are now abusing a program that was set up for people who honestly need assistance. I am just appalled by this type of self-serving behavior.

Also, last I checked, being over the age of 65 doesn't qualify you as disabled and allow you to cheat your way in front of families with multiple children and business travelers who paid three times the fare that these scammers did.

A: It seems like everyone is trying to get first dibs at the overhead bins and choice seats these days. I've also seen people taking advantage of "passengers with young children" early boarding. There's one child of an indeterminate age, then the parents, then the grandparents, and then the teenaged kids, all getting on board early on the coat tails of a not-so-young-looking "child." I've also seen what you describe, but it's only going to get worse as the population ages.

Paying extra for a good seat

Q: I just did advanced check-in on US Airways, 20 hours ahead of departure, from my home computer. I could select seats on the first leg of my trip, but not the connecting flight. Only a few "premium seats" at $10 and "emergency row" seats." When I tried to select one of the latter, I got a note that they were only available for "premium" frequent fliers. So I forked over $10, but does this mean I would not have gotten a seat without paying on this flight, for which I made a reservation a month ago? Or would they give me a free seat on check-in?

A: Many airlines these days are holding back "choice" seats, for their best customers, when consumers buy their flights. It doesn't mean that you won't get a seat, unless the flight is oversold and there aren't enough volunteers to take another flight (involuntary bumping). You'd get a seat, all right, but it's either going to be a middle seat at the back of the plane, or it could be one of those premium seats for which there were no eligible takers. Do airlines do this in part to snooker passengers into paying for a seat they'd get free anyway? Very possibly.

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