Airlines’ Mishandling of Wheelchairs Leaves Consumers Stranded

As summer weather heats up and consumers return to airports following the pandemic that stifled travel in 2020, another statistic is potentially on the rise: the number of wheelchairs and scooters damaged by airlines.

Last month, a TikTok video of a Delta Air Lines passenger went viral, with the woman crying that the airline had damaged her ultralightweight wheelchair so badly that it could no longer be used.

An unidentified person, presumably an airport or Delta employee, tells the woman, “We have means of getting a wheelchair for you.” The passenger tries to explain the custom nature of her wheelchair and why a standard airport or transfer chair won’t work. “It’s made for me,” she says of her chair. The woman breaks down in tears as another employee prepares to lift her into an aisle wheelchair: “You’re going to grab a leg,” he says to a coworker.

Unfortunately, this passenger’s dilemma is hardly rare. Hannah Sampson of the Washington Post noted that since the end of 2018, 15,425 wheelchairs and scooters were reported as damaged, lost, delayed or stolen. That number accounts for 1.5 percent of all mobility devices that were loaded onto airplanes as cargo during that time.

In 2019, 10,548 wheelchairs and scooters were reported damaged, lost, delayed or stolen, a figure that averages out to 29 incidents per day.

Those numbers dropped in 2020, a year in which travel was sharply curtailed by pandemic restrictions. The Air Travel Consumer Report, released by the Department of Transportation, tallied 712 devices as damaged, lost, delayed or stolen in the first quarter of 2021.

In her story, Sampson quoted global traveler and power wheelchair user John Morris, founder of Wheelchair Travel, who said he believes incidents are being underreported.

  

About the Author

Laurie Watanabe is the editor of Mobility Management. She can be reached at lwatanabe@1105media.com.

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