When Wheelchairs Are Handled Like Baggage

Anyone who has ever flown has seen it. Sitting comfortably in the plane to look out the window and see your luggage being tossed and thrown around like it was a sack of potatoes. For most of us, this is an inconvenience. A broken laptop is a pain. Waiting for the airline to reimburse you is maddening. But you can still get on with your life with relative normalcy. But what if that laptop was something more? Something that without, you would be completely stranded. Then it becomes more than an inconvenience – it stops your life right in its tracks.

That’s the experience of many wheelchair and powerchair users who have landed in their destinations only to find their chairs lost or broken. Most powerchairs are designed to specifically meet the needs of their user – they cannot just be switched out for another wheelchair. And damage can happen in many different ways. Not only can pieces of the wheelchair bend or break, but improper storage and treatment during flight can cause electrical errors.

Do the airlines pay for the damage? Most of the time. But it is not a quick fix. There can be weeks on a waiting list for repairs, and if your chair is an older model, the airline may not even cover the full cost to replace it. At this point in the story you are either sighing in agreement because you have been there, done that, or you are in a moral outrage. Isn’t there some kind of law to keep this from happening? you may ask. Why, yes, there is. But like most laws, it only works if it is enforced. Which it’s not.

So what to do next? Many disability advocates are calling for more education for airline employees, as well as special systems designed to lift and stow wheelchairs properly, versus putting them on the conveyor belt with the rest of the luggage.

To learn more, check out this article in USA Today about this growing problem.

And tell us what you think! Have you ever encountered this? How was it resolved? Any advice?

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