This Viral Video Shows Why So Many Wheelchairs Get Destroyed by Airlines
American Airlines said it will take necessary action in response to the incident.
Multiple studies have shown it, and new video evidence from social media is proving the point: Airlines are way too often careless with wheelchairs and mobility devices.
On TikTok, a video just went viral for showing an American Airlines baggage handler mishandling a passenger's wheelchair and carelessly shoving it down a ramp that is, according to observant commenters on X (formerly Twitter), reserved for checked bags.
"Dang, after I saw them do this and laugh with the first two wheelchairs I had to get it on film," reads the caption of the video, which was posted by TikTok user @haez93. "That is not what I'd call 'handling with care' for someone's mobility device."
According to the poster, the incident happened Sunday around noon at Miami International Airport. In a comment, the TikToker specifies that the video was taken at Terminal E between gate E8 and E9. "This was the 3rd wheelchair I saw them carelessly toss and let flip off like that," they added.
As multiple people point out in the comments, wheelchairs can cost thousands of dollars. "These chairs cost upwards of $3k plus," noted one user. "They aren’t easily replaceable and insurance only covers new chairs every 5 years." Other comments shared different price points too, which ranged from $5,000 to $20,000. "That's someone's lifeline," reads one comment. "Literally to survive."
In June, a USAFacts report, which ranked US airlines by the percentages of wheelchairs mishandled as reported by the US Department of Transportation, placed American Airlines in the better end of the list, with a ratio of 1.6% mishandled wheelchairs. For comparison's sake, the worst airline in the ranking was Spirit with a mishandled wheelchair ratio of 6.3%, while the best one was Delta (0.7%).
But even though American Airlines isn't infamous for mishandling wheelchairs and mobility devices, the airline recognized there is still a lot of work to be done in a comment provided to Thrillist in response to the viral video.
"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," an American Airlines spokesperson told Thrillist. "This visual is deeply concerning and we are gathering more details so that we can address them with our team. We will continue to work hard to improve our handling of assistive devices across our network."
The airline also shared that it routinely provides training for their Customer Operations teams to ensure appropriate handling of wheelchairs and mobility devices, and it is currently engaging such teams to determine what areas need further improvement. Additionally, American Airlines said it is installing wheelchair movers and lifts at various airports with high mobility device traffic to further support mobility device owners.
According to USAFacts, wheelchairs are mishandled twice as often when compared to checked bags. Just this past March, one in 175 checked bags were reported as mishandled, but when it came to wheelchairs, that ratio was one in 65.
It's a growing issue, too. The Department of Transportation-produced October 2023 Air Travel Consumer Report, in fact, demonstrated the theory. When looking at data from August 2023, 1.52 in 100 wheelchairs or scooters were mishandled by US airlines (1,104 total units), compared to a ratio of 1.42 in August of last year. Looking at wider time periods won't really change the results. According to the department's May 2023 Air Travel Consumer Report, between January and March of this year US airlines mishandled 2,547 wheelchairs and scooters. During the same time period last year, the reported number for the same issue was 2,028.
Disability advocates are currently waiting for airlines to make the necessary accessible adjustments to allow wheelchair and scooter users to board the plane without having to transfer off their device, and some of them, including Delta, have already announced that new accessible features are underway. In the meantime, though, what advocates and the public can do is try and hold airlines accountable.