It’s the Baggage Handlers, Not the Flying I’m Afraid Of

4744505399_99a880ff69Unlike 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?

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  1. Denise says:

    This is why I never donate my old power chair and keep it in working order. The problem isn’t just the baggage handlers – it’s also plane design. Newer regional jets have partially obstructed cargo bay doors and my chair doesn’t fit easily. I have learned to fly Southwest whenever possible as they have damaged my chair the least, and are always great at paying for repairs when I get home.

  2. That is why our writer, Jennifer Gorman, wrote this piece on how to protect your wheelchair See it here: http://bit.ly/19SnQRc

  3. Joe Binkley/Syndrajo says:

    here is my rant about airport ,us wheelchair bound folks will be first to load onto plane ,and chair gets loaded underneath plane,but when it comes time to land,i usually gotta wait til everyone has disembarked and cargo hold is emptied before i can get my tilite aero x chair back so that i can literally fly to other end of airport to just make connecting flight to do this all over again….thats just not right….

  4. I agree totally, it very scary and they do not treat you nicely.
    The worst ones are at Fort Lauderdale, Florida airport.

    Two weeks ago I had a rude handler at the Orlando, Florida airport.

    They need education.

  5. Diarmuid Corry says:

    I fly 2-3 times/month and thankfully have had very few really bad experiences. I use a rigid (Quickie GPV until last year, now a Q7) and that might help as it is light and sturdy. IN the last fifteen years I have had a broken chair only three times, and in all three cases the airline (3 different ones) did a great job in looking after me. United is “my” airline because I live near a United hub, but I would concur with the other comments about Southwest – absolutely the best airline for wheelies IMHO. The worst? US Airways. OUt of four flights with them they lost my chair twice. Thats a 50% failure rate, and both times out of their “home” in Philadelphia. I would roll across the USA rather than fly US Airways now. No one else has actually lost the chair in transit. My pet peeve is not the baggage handlers, but the folk who are supposed to get you on and off the plane. Compared to Europe the US staff are poorly trained and dangeroulsy incompetent

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