Best & Worst: Mishandling Wheelchairs


These Are the Best & Worst Airlines for Mishandling Wheelchairs

In the first two months of 2019, U.S. airlines mishandled a whopping 1,274 wheelchairs.

A new rule was approved last year that requires the U.S. Department of Transportation to share a list of the best and worse carriers for mishandling wheelchairs. The first bit of data from that new law has been released in 2019, and it’s clear that many carriers lack the respect needed in handling wheelchairs, a tool used by thousands of people for their mobility.

In January, the U.S. Department of Transportation showed that 681 wheelchairs of 33,000 wheelchairs and scooters were mishandled by 10 major airline networks. In February, the number was 593.

Advocate of the National Disability Rights Network, Ian Watlington said, “Even I was surprised by how widespread it was.”

“This isn’t a destroyed bag, or this isn’t the inconvenience for ripped clothing. This is somebody’s mobility,” he added.

Of the data provided by the U.S. Department of Transportation from January and February 2019, it seems that Delta and its partners were among the best at safely handling wheelchairs. United and Allegiant followed Delta, with United in third place in January and second place in February.

American Airlines was the worst airline for mishandling wheelchairs, with Southwest Airlines ranking in the bottom three both months. Jet Blue was the second worst airline in February.

American Airlines spokeswoman Shannon Gilson told WHSV 3, “Our goal is to ensure customers of all abilities have a positive travel experience and we strive to do better every day. We’ve taken a number of steps to meet the new reporting requirements and continue to improve our processes to ensure our team members have the tools they need to properly handle and track wheelchairs and assistive devices.”

The rankings are based on the percentage of mishandled wheelchairs, but if you focus solely on the numbers, Southwest Airlines mishandled 178 wheelchairs in January, which outranked American Airlines at 167.

Southwest spokesman Dan Landson said, “When damage is reported by a Customer, we take each claim seriously and immediately begin to work to have the device repaired or replaced. While this is taking place, we work with local vendors to provide a temporary replacement for our Customer to use until their device is fully repaired. In rare cases when a temporary device is not available that meets a Customer’s needs, we work with the Customer to accommodate them in the best way possible.”

Landson continued, “Additionally, Southwest is an active member on the Assistive Technology for Air Travel Committee of the Rehabilitation Engineering and Assistive Technology Society of North America (RESNA). The committee is made up of airlines, disability advocacy groups, and wheelchair manufacturers and providers that work toward new manufacturing standards as well as consumer and airline best practices for handling assistive devices that will make these devices more compatible with air travel in the future.”

Written by  ALEX TEMBLADOR of Travel Pulse