July 31, 2022

Senator warns mounting airline wheelchair breakages destroy people's freedom of movement. 'Wheelchairs are complex medical devices, not just suitcases to be tossed around.'

Source: Business Insider


Senator Tammy Duckworth has told Insider that "we cannot rest" as many wheelchairs are being broken every day amid the airline chaos. 

The Democratic senator from Illinois, who uses a wheelchair, was commenting on the numerous reports of wheelchairs being broken and damaged as airlines struggle to cope with the summer demand. 

In an email to Insider, Duckworth said: "We would never accept airlines breaking the legs of 1 in 65 passengers, and yet, that is essentially what is happening when 1 out of 65 wheelchairs are being broken by airlines. 

"I know from personal experience that when an airline damages a wheelchair, it's more than a simple inconvenience—it's a complete loss of mobility and independence."

Senator Duckworth has used a wheelchair ever since she lost her legs fighting in the Iraq war when the Blackhawk helicopter she was co-piloting was hit by an RPG.

Yesterday, Insider reported that American Airlines had been accused of breaking a man's wheelchair and then severely damaging his replacement less than three weeks later. 

Earlier this week, Delta forgot to put a passenger's wheelchair onto a flight from New York to Ireland, then broke it on the way home.

"We cannot rest until every airline finally treats our wheelchairs as what they are: complex medical devices, not just suitcases to be tossed around," Senator Duckworth told Insider. 

It's not just that wheelchairs are being broken, but the people who use them are being forgotten, too. 

An 85-year-old woman was almost hospitalized after she was stranded for 14 hours at the Orlando Airport when no one helped with her wheelchair. 

The problem is prevalent in the UK, too. A disabled woman told Insider was stranded on a plane for a 'demeaning' 95 minutes at London Gatwick airport after staff meant to help her off the flight were a no-show. 

Department of Transportation data shows an average of 35.8 wheelchairs (and scooters) were "mishandled" on US flights daily, a total of 1,110 for the month of May. A year ago, the figure was 601.

The latest figures are for May 2022 and thus don't yet show the full extent of the damages caused by the recent travel chaos. 

Senator Duckworth enacted a law that meant that air carriers have to report these figures to the Department of Transportation, with Duckworth telling Insider the public data is important "so we can work to hold them accountable."

By:  Bethany Dawson