American Airlines shown tossing around wheelchair in viral TikTok
Over the last five years, more than one airline has fallen under scrutiny over its handling of passengers’ wheelchairs and other medical devices.
Denver-based Frontier Airways (FRON) - Get Free Report is currently facing a lawsuit from a traveler who claims she was left bedridden for two days while the airline struggled to locate her wheelchair while, last November, an Air Canada (ACDVF) - Get Free Report passenger went viral after describing how the airline broke a $30,000 custom wheelchair and then offered a $500 travel voucher for the “inconvenience.”
A year later in October 2023, a traveler with cerebral palsy had to drag himself off a plane with his upper body strength after the airline failed to get his motorized wheelchair into the plane and then did not offer a replacement.
Department of Transportation (DOT) data shows that the country’s 10 biggest airlines damaged 11,389 wheelchairs and medical scooters, or 1.54% of all such devices they transported in 2022.
Dang, after i saw them do this and laugh with the first two wheelchairs i had to get it on film. That is not what id call “handling with care” for someones mobility device…. #AmericanAirlines #handlewithcare #mobilitydevice #wheelchair♬ Oh No - Kreepa https://www.tiktok.com/@haez93/video/7303306999909960990
‘Not what I’d call ‘handling with care…’”
Over the weekend of Nov. 18, a TikTok video of a baggage handler in an American Airlines (AAL) - Get Free Report vest pushing a wheelchair down a jet chute went viral. The video, which captured the wheelchair tumbling and somersaulting through the air before another baggage handler catches it on the tarmac, was viewed more than 800,000 times in less than 24 hours.
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“Dang, after I saw them do this and laugh with the first two wheelchairs I had to get it on film," TikTok user @haez93, who captured the footage and posted in online, wrote in the caption. "That is not what I'd call 'handling with care' for someone's mobility device."
Many of the commenters expressed horror at the sight and shared stories of their own mobility devices being broken.
“That explains why my daughter’s wheelchair was broken when we arrived in Florida for her Make A Wish trip,” a TikTok user named Kat wrote in one of the most upvoted comments underneath the video.
“Those chairs cost upwards of $3k plus,” wrote another user. “They aren’t easily replaceable and insurance only covers new chairs every five years.”
Airline issues a statement, but why does this keep happening?
Whenever such an incident goes viral, travelers who need a wheelchair to get around share their own bad experiences. Some have ended up unable to go outside a hotel in a foreign country while others have received injuries trying to get off the plane without their wheelchair.
“Wheelchair users have been trying for ages to raise awareness about their wheelchairs being broken so often when they fly, and the devastating impact this has on them,” disability advocate Becca Taylor wrote of the video on the social media platform formerly known as Twitter. “@AmericanAir baggage handlers decided to give a demonstration of how much they enjoy breaking them."
“We recognize how important it is to support the independence of customers with disabilities by ensuring the proper care of mobility devices throughout their journey with us,” American Airlines said in a statement to media outlets after the video went viral. “This visual is deeply concerning and we are gathering more details so that we can address them with our team.”
It added that it will “continue to work hard to improve our handling of assistive devices across our network.”
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