They didn’t have the accessible room I reserved — what am I owed?

Disara/Shutterstock
Disara/Shutterstock
Some hotel amenities aren’t that important. Some are.

Having an accessible room, which is required under some state and federal laws, is a biggie. So when John and Carolyn Falabella asked me to look into their hotel’s failure to offer them the room they reserved, I knew it could be serious.

But a closer look at their case one shows just how frustrating it can be to fix a major problem like this, particularly with a chain hotel. I’m not sure if I can make this right, but read on and let me know if you think I should get involved in mediating this dispute.

Falabella had reservations at a Comfort Inn in Arlington, Va. He says he’d made a booking for an accessible room through Comfort Inn’s 800-number, and that he received a confirmation.

“When we checked in at the hotel, we asked if the room was mobility accessible,” he says. “The person who checked us in said no, but there was a bar in the bathroom. We accepted the room thinking the bar would be sufficient.”

It wasn’t. The bar was too small.

“We asked for and received a bathtub stool to gain access to the tub to prevent an accident. This helped a little, but not enough to comfortably use the bathroom,” he says.

Using the restroom was even more difficult.

He explains:

In order to use the toilet, the person had to get her wheelchair through the door, close the door, fold the chair, and unfold the chair to use it to mount and dismount the toilet. The bathroom door had to remain open while she performed her business. If the wheelchair had been the kind with the large wheels, entering the bathroom would have been impossible.

Now, bear in mind that the Falabellas had been told that the room they received wasn’t accessible. I’m sure they wish they’d rejected the accommodations on the spot.

Complaints to the hotel were fruitless. They approached someone at the front desk with the problem.

“He said he would tell his manager to see what they could do for us,” he said. ” He also told us we should have called the hotel directly rather than using the 800 number to book an [accessible] room.”

The couple checked out of the hotel the next morning, as planned, and hoped to hear back from Choice with an apology. But, surprise! — they didn’t. So they contacted corporate Choice.

A representative wrote back and said that because Choice properties are “individually owned” they can’t control the day-to-day operations.

What nonsense. Choice Hotels can strip this “individually owned” property of its flag, and it should do so if it fails to honor a reservation for an accessible room.

But at this point, what can the hotel really do except apologize?

“Choice hotels booked us for a mobility-accessible room,” says Falabellas. “We did not get what we paid for and would not have stayed there if we knew they did not have mobility access rooms available.”

He’d like a few additional Choice Rewards points for the trouble. That doesn’t sound like an expensive resolution to me. I’d like to see an apology and a promise to never let that happen again. There’s no way to go back in time and re-do the Falabellas’ visit, and therein lies the problem. Choice should have given them the right room in the first place.

Is it too late to make a difference?

(Update: Shortly after I wrote this, Choice corporate contacted the Falabellas and offered them 2,000 points for the trouble. “We told them ‘no,'” he says. “It takes 20,000 points to get a free night.”)

Should I mediate John and Carolyn Falabella's case?

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Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is an author, journalist and consumer advocate. You can read more about him on his personal website or contact him at . Got a question or comment? You can post it on the new forum.

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  • Raven_Altosk

    He was a tool. And from Brooklyn. Laughing in his pathetic face (even after he scolded me for doing so “wipe that smirk off your face young man!”) seemed the appropriate course of action.
    I can still hear that nasal, obnoxious voice telling me that phrase at times. It still makes me grin.

  • Lindabator

    Amen! Most would have just shrugged.

  • SoLame

    There are how many hotels in or near Arlington, VA? He should have wheeled around and found another, and then sued in small claims. End of story.

  • absherlock

    I completely agree that they should have been walked to another hotel (if a more appropriate room was available). Perhaps that’s a change that needs to be made to the ADA.

  • LeeAnneClark

    Oh Raven…wipe that darn grin off your face! ;-)

  • joaneisenstodt

    It is my understanding that the amendment to the ADA, in addition to the requirements for web sites, for pool lifts (which the hotel owners assn. lobbied very hard against and were able to have implementation delayed for more than a year) REQUIRES that accessible rooms are to be the LAST ROOMS SOLD. (Intentional caps.) And I believe the law is very specific about the number of accessible rooms and what types the hotels must have. (This from 2001: http://www.ada.gov/hsurvey.htm, this from 2012: http://www.ada.gov/qa_existingpools_titleIII.htm and this that starts out with guest room info: http://hotelada.com/
    I imagine that hotel is owned by a company that owns other hotels and that they are aware. If it were the front desk staff who were simply not aware of what accessible is and what their inventory contains, boo to the management and ownership. Choice does in fact have lots of control over “brand standards” (learned years ago as a member of a customer advisory board for a major hotel brand) and this is one of those.
    Yes, this has to be taken on, Chris, with thanks from many of us .. who have disabilities and some of us in the hospitality industry who have fought our own industry for years over compliance issues. A colleague and I are doing a session in January for a meetings industry convention about more than the ADA – more about the meeting experience for people with disabilities. That clearly includes being able to be accommodated in a guest room.

  • mizmoose

    Thanks to idiot sites like Reader’s Digest who advise people, “If you want a bigger room for the same amount of money, book a handicapped room”, it’s harder than ever to book an accessible room, especially on short term notice.

    I once went to check into a hotel where I had made my reservation months in advance so I’d get an accessible room. When I got there the clerk found that the room had been switched out under me for another guest. I was fortunate that she recognized the name as someone who wasn’t disabled but liked the “extra room” of a handicapped room, and switched the reservations so I got the room.

    Sure enough I was in the lobby when the other guest showed up, and threw a screaming tantrum when she was told she wasn’t getting a handicapped room. I eventually went over and said, “Excuse me, ma’am, are you disabled?”
    She said no.
    I said, “Are you staying here with someone who is disabled?”
    She said no.
    I said, “Then why don’t you leave handicapped rooms for people who actually need them, like me?”

    She started screeching at me, but I just turned and left. What a self-absorbed jerk.

  • Fishplate

    ” If you book non-smoking, is it okay to find out at check-in that all
    the non-smoking rooms happen to be occupied so you’ll need to deal with a
    smoking room?”

    Yes, it’s happened to me more than once. They pointed to the fine print, and said, basically, tough luck.

    But the ADA issue is different. Had I had some medical need to avoid residual odors, then perhaps I could have made a fuss. But they got the ozone machine out, and did their best to make it right for me.

  • tonis

    ADA used to state a minimum that was required for a room to be considered handicap accessible, but I don’t know what changes have been made in the law in the last few years.

  • tonis

    Choice Properties used to (as late as December 2010) require one to reserve via the main 800 number in order to receive points for the stay.

  • Grant Ritchie

    I think this whole handicapped/challenged/disabled/differently able/mobility challenged/disadvantaged/differently advantaged (Did I miss any of the buzzwords?) contretemps is an example of political correctness coming back to bite us in the butt. God forbid you should ask someone if they’re really handicapped or what their handicap might be. And more and more ethically-challenged people are realizing that there are bigger rooms, better parking spots, and front-of-the-line privileges at Disney World to be had for the low, low price of a little white (black?) lie.

  • mizmoose

    Seriously?

    People with invisible or not obvious handicaps get tired of being constantly asked about their handicap – and I mean constantly. If I had a mere penny for every random person who thought they were helping me by explaining to my face that I’m not really handicapped, I’m just overweight (I’m still trying to figure out how weight loss grows internal body parts back) I’d have more than enough money to live on for life.

    You have a valid point about the unethical behaviour of people but have completely missed my point about how this problem is exacerbated by companies that encourage it, all to wrap it up in complaining that we’re too politically correct about people with disabilities. Great job.

  • EdB

    So if a person were allowed to ask someone what their handicap was, do you think the vast majority of the population would be able to determine if it was something that needed the accommodation? How would they be able to know the extent of the handicap? Where is the line that separates two people with the same “handicap” but at different severities to say the accommodation is required versus it is just helpful but not needed? This is one reason why people are not allowed to ask about handicaps.

  • Annie M

    I vote yes. As a travel agent, I know that these rooms are on request and depend on the availability when guests arrive. But I have a few questions – did the hotel have ANY accessible rooms or were they just occupied when the guests arrive? The excuse that the hotels are individually owned is baloney – if you make a reservation online or through their call center and it shows accessible rooms, then there is no excuse about being individually owned and operated. Either they have them or they don’t.

    If I had been the couple, I would have either insisted I be moved to an accessible room if there weren’t any or insisted they move me to another hotel nearby that had accessible room on their dime.

    I think that Choice hotels either owes them a refund or points equal to one night.

  • Annie M

    I agree!

  • Annie M

    Agree

  • Annie M

    I am with you EdB!!

  • Patrick Henry

    No. When the OP arrived to find out the hotel did not have an accessible room they should have cancelled their reservation and found another hotel. The hotel did not force the OP to accept the room. I think it is lame to accept a room, knowing that it did not meet your requirements, and then complain after the fact.

  • Grant Ritchie

    Actually, Ed, what I’d like to see is even more radical. I’m handicapped and I have a handicapped parking placard for my car. I had to prove to my doctor that I WAS handicapped before she would authorize it. That requirement that I have an authorized handicapped parking placard means that I have a much better chance of finding the parking spot I need. Why shouldn’t that rationale apply to other kinds of handicapped accommodations? You’re handicapped? You go to your doctor and get a wallet-card stating that you’re handicapped. When you wish to rent a mobility accessible room, use one of the “handicapped” carts at the store, or jump to the front of the line at Disney World, you produce your card. I know, I know… that would be terrible, and discriminatory, and all the other PC blather, but it would also work. And someday, given the thousands (millions?) of folks who are taking rooms, carts, or whatever to which they’re not entitled, it’s going to happen.

  • Grant Ritchie

    Hi Miz,
    I expressed myself poorly. I do know what you mean about thoughtless people asking about your handicap, and as a handicapped person myself, more sympathetic I could not be. But if some kind of a system for determining if a person really IS handicapped is not put in place, then eventually amenities for the truly handicapped are going to become harder and harder to find. We’re seeing it already with mobility-accessible rooms. As I mentioned to EdB above, eventually, I think we’re going to have to go to carrying some kind of doctor-issued “handicapped” card. I remember when stores and theaters first started setting aside “handicapped” parking, but the able-bodied would snap it up. It wasn’t until “handicapped” placards were created and people like me were made to prove that we were entitled to them that the parking situation improved. The same will prove true for “handicapped” wallet-cards. We can swaddle ourselves in political correctness and huff about our “entitlements,” or we can do something to make the system work.

  • Grant Ritchie

    P.S. Sorry about the Moderator tag, Ed. I’m not posting as a moderator; I just can’t get rid of the damned thing. :-)

  • Judy Serie Nagy

    What an excellent example of the I DON’T CARE attitude. The hotel manager should appear on live TV to answer the question of why s/he doesn’t give a dam* about a disabled guest. Then s/he should be dragged through the streets; there is no excuse for treating a human being like this. It’s not a case of a pillow that’s too soft or a towel that is old and thin, it’s a case of being able to take care of yourself in the room you have paid good money for.