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Air passenger fighting for change after being told his wheelchair was too heavy to fly

Alaska Airlines told Mark Challender his electric wheelchair was too heavy by 21 pounds to fit in the cargo hold on his flight from Seattle to Bellingham.

BELLINGHAM, Wash. — Since an incurable muscular disease put him in a motorized wheelchair five years ago, Mark Challender has discovered how difficult it is for someone who can't walk to get around.

Flying took the difficulties to new heights.

"It's just mindboggling why people don't make a reasonable change," he said.

Challender was coming back from a cruise in Miami with his wife when he switched planes at Sea-Tac Airport, bound for Bellingham.

But the Alaska Airlines crew said his battery-operated chair was too heavy by 21 pounds.

"Well, I'm feeling defeated," Challender recalled. "It sucks."

Several years ago, Alaska started replacing Bombardier Q-400 planes with smaller, more efficient Embraer 175s.

One unforeseen consequence was a weight distribution issue that makes carrying large, heavy objects, like wheelchairs, problematic in the cargo hold.

American Airlines found a way to work around the issue, but Alaska has not.

"Why in the world are these things happening in this day and age?" Challender asked, exasperated.

An Alaska Airlines spokesperson told KING 5, "The well-being of our guests and employees is always our top priority. To ensure the proper transport of battery-powered mobility devices in the cargo hold of our aircraft, we temporarily suspended electric mobility devices on our E175 aircraft."

Challender believes one solution is for airlines to install wheelchair docking stations like the one he has in his van -- allowing both him and his chair to be in the cabin together instead of checking it as cargo. 

"This is exactly what they're talking about installing in the airplanes," Mark said, demonstrating it for KING 5. "Transportation Secretary Buttigieg is on board."

As he continues to navigate the world with a disease that requires him to use a wheelchair to get around, Mark said it comes down to one word.

"Dignity. I think the airlines can do better."

A representative for Alaska Airlines said the company is working with the FAA and the aircraft manufacturer to find a solution to the weight distribution issue that would allow customers better access. 

That representative said the solution could come as quickly as within 30 days, if not sooner. 

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