March 28, 2019

New Federal Report Reveals Airlines Damage Average of 25 Wheelchairs Each Day

Airlines have to report how many wheelchairs they damage for first time thanks to Tammy Duckworth


[WASHINGTON D.C.] – As a result of a law authored by U.S. Senator Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) is releasing data that reveals for the first time how many wheelchairs and motorized scooters airlines damage each month. According to the DOT’s latest air travel consumer report, air carriers reported damaging or breaking 701 wheelchairs and scooters between December 4th and December 31st – an average of over 25 each day. Duckworth is a combat Veteran and double amputee who has had her wheelchair damaged several times during air travel, including during the December reporting period.

 “Every airline passenger deserves to be treated with dignity and respect, but too often they aren’t. Travelers should be able to find out if certain airlines have high rates of breaking wheelchairs and other equipment that people depend on, just like we can find out if certain airlines have high rates of flight delays or cancellations,” said Senator Duckworth. “I know from personal experience that when an airline damages a wheelchair, it is more than a simple inconvenience—it's a complete loss of mobility and independence. It was the equivalent of taking my legs away from me again. No air traveler should be left in the lurch, immobile on a plane.”

 A rule to require air carriers to provide DOT with monthly reports detailing the total number of wheelchairs, and motorized scooters they break or mishandle was first proposed by the Obama Administration “so travelers with disabilities can easily compare carriers and make informed travel decisions.” However, the rule was delayed by the Trump Administration in March 2017, hours after airline lobbyists wrote to DOT requesting the rule to be stalled.

 Frustrated by the delay, Duckworth first wrote to U.S. Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao in April 2017, asking for an explanation and sharing her personal experiences – including one time her wheelchair fell apart while she was sitting in it after a titanium rod was damaged by an airline – to explain why this rule is necessary. Duckworth grilled an airlines lobbyist during a Senate hearing the next month on how the delay caused more stress for disabled travelers, calling on the industry to put customers first and expand consumer protections. Duckworth then wrote an amendment that was included in the FAA Reauthorization Act that became law in October 2018 that required DOT to implement the long-delayed rule that within 60 days.

 A chart of the first month’s reporting is online here.

Since she was first elected to Congress, Duckworth has been a fierce advocate for disability rights and consumer safety. She has led efforts to protect the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) from efforts to gut it last year, gathering enough support from her colleagues to block a bill that passed the House of Representatives and would have gutted enforcement of the ADA, rewarding businesses that have failed to make their facilities accessible to people with disabilities. Earlier this month, she helped introduced the Air Carrier Access Amendments Act with Senator Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) to protect airplane passengers with disabilities from discrimination.