Unlike most people, the possibility of dying a fiery, plummeting death isn’t my number one concern when I fly. What scares me the most are the baggage handlers. These so-called experts of handling baggage have no idea how to properly handle wheelchairs.
I first discovered this reality when I flew many years ago. Upon arriving home in Minneapolis after a primo vacay in San Diego, my backrest was dismantled and bent and just “put” on my chair like a cake topper, and one of the wheels on my shower chair had a broken axle. Yup, they had to break both of my chairs – that’s how much they loved me.
While airlines do compensate for damages to mobility equipment, it’s a major disruption to our lives and a complete loss of independence for most. We have no legs when our wheelchairs are broken. What are we supposed to do in the meantime? Rental wheelchairs, the only solution, are one of the worst things.
You typically need your chair to fit your body exactly if you’re going to be sitting in an all day; otherwise major back pain, skin issues — and many people can’t drive when they don’t have the right wheelchair for their vehicle. And when that happens, you can’t get to work. When they break our chairs, it pretty much is criminal.
Yet today in the news there ‘s a glimmer of hope to this longstanding injustice of incompetent baggage handlers. Apparently in 2011 a finding was issued by the Department of Transportation that would require airlines to provide more specific information when it came to disability complaints received. Unfortunately however after 2 years – this filing is still under review. Who knows how long it will take, but this story in USA Today should help. And in the meantime while we wait, wheelchairs are continually mishandled.
Currently, there is no sustainable punishment if a airline receives a disability-related complaint. It’s really crazy how little oversight is put into place to make sure the airlines aren’t completely horrible with disability equipment. All the Dept of Transportation does is publish a list each month that’s available to the public, detailing which airlines received the most complaints. That’s it, public shaming; and if you ask me, that’s not enough.
Many advocates say airlines should buy special lifts for bringing wheelchairs in and out of airplanes. This is a great idea, an expense they can surely afford. Currently, airlines just put wheelchairs on the moving conveyor belt with the other luggage (it’s no wonder our wheelchairs break).
Let’s hope this filing by the DOT becomes instigated soon. Anything is better than where the current regulations stand right now – a “look at you baddie” list. Too many injustices have occurred to disabled fliers. Hopefully we’ll see a brighter future when it comes to flying very soon.
Has your wheelchair been damaged by airline baggage handlers? How long did it take for you to get compensated?