Airports — any airport, really, but especially Hartsfield-Jackson in Atlanta — are a miserable hellpits filled with forced groping, rubbery food, and lonely people working at the magic kit kiosks, hawking trick cards and imploring you to remember that they, too, were young once, full of wild dreams about opening for Penn & Teller, having their very own suite in the Bellagio, eventually settling into a nightly show for voyeurs at the Mandalay Bay called "Gandalf's Orgasm." You see, airports kill such dreams of grandeur and exotic adventures because they subject travelers to a gauntlet of excruciating and demeaning protocols. Unless, of course, you have a wheelchair, in which case you get to skip ahead in security lines, scowl-off a TSA pat-down, and board your plane before even the business class douchebags, while all the other suckers who didn't request a free wheelchair fret about whether or not being in Zone 5 means they'll have to gate-check their oversized carry-on.
According to the New York Times, some travelers might be taking advantage of the golden ticket that is the airport wheelchair, requesting a chair even if they're not incapable of walking, per se. Flight attendants are getting wise to this sort of deception, especially when a passenger requests a wheelchair getting on his or her Jamaica-bound plane, but mysteriously doesn't request a chair disembarking. The logic is pretty clear — on departing flights, wheelchairs offer passengers a clear, line-cutting advantage, but on arriving flights, requiring a wheelchair means watching everyone get up and shuffle off the plane before a resentful flight attendant can push a wheelchair down the aisle.
Airport workers can even predict spikes in wheelchair requests, explains the Times, which seem to occur whenever security is most clogged. Certain routes, such as those to the Philippines, Egypt, and the Dominican Republic, are also peculiarly wheelchair-y, prompting some flight attendants to dub them "miracle flights," since passengers who were loaded onto a plane in a wheelchair seem to heal themselves en route to their destination and leave the wheelchair helper at the arrival gate waiting around forever. Looking sooo stupid.
The wheelchair ruse phenomenon, the Times posits, has a lot to do with how completely terrible air travel has become from the good old days of showing up five minutes before a flight, getting totally hammered en route for the price of complimentary, and filling the cabin with unfiltered cigarette smoke while you talked to the pilot through an open cockpit door. It also has a lot to do with the fact that people are assholes and will exploit whatever advantage they can to shave what really amounts to (barring delays) maybe twenty extra minutes of inconvenience (the Air Carrier Access Act of 1986 requires that airlines provide accommodations for disabled travelers).
The Times also notes that flight attendants who handle all the wheelchair-pushing "earn between $9 and $14 an hour and rely heavily on tips," meaning, I guess, that they're tacitly allowing fakers to get away with wheelchair fraud, as if taking note of the shitty pay that flight attendants and airport workers take home is at all helpful. There isn't any real way to tell how many people are faking and how many aren't (some people who walk off flights really do need wheelchairs getting through a security checkpoint because they can't stand up for long periods of time). No one will own up to faking a disability to cut in line because cutting in line is the worst thing any person can do, even worse than drowning a basket of kittens. If you cut in line, you might as well just take a huge shit all over the social contract that everyone else is patiently/angrily/nervously abiding by when they queue at a security checkpoint.
Rolling Past a Line, Often Exploiting a Rule [NY Times]