A disabled traveler says the airline destroyed his wheelchair during the flight.


(InvestigateTV) – For people with disabilities, flying has become another obstacle as many have seen their wheelchairs damaged or destroyed during their trip.

In July 2020, Lanny Hill’s life changed forever after a work accident left him paralyzed from waist to toe.

“I thought, oh, I’m gonna get better. I will be better. I’ll just bounce back, ”Hill said.

But he didn’t and learned to live with it. In December, Hill took his first flight after his accident. He flew from Gainesville, Fla. To San Diego, Calif., An experience that will likely be his last. “I was a little upset and disgusted,” Hill said.

His meeting at the airport to board the plane was a near-disaster as he said he received no wheelchair assistance or assistance from flight attendants.

“There have been a few times in this whole trip where my feelings have really been crushed.”

To make matters worse, Hill said baggage handlers destroyed his custom-made wheelchair after stowing it under the plane with the luggage. He took photos showing the dents, bent wheels and a missing brake.

“It’s like I’m sitting there watching this, it just tears my heart out,” Hill said.

He had to replace the wheelchair.

Hill’s ordeal can be more than an inconvenience – it can be devastating.

InvestigateTV found nearly two hundred complaints on Twitter from people with disabilities across the country sharing horrific stories of wheelchairs being broken and lost while flying with different airlines. Some left in difficulty or even stranded at airports.

But that is only a small amount of all reported complaints.

We reviewed more than 130,000 disability-related air travel complaint files on U.S. flights reported to the Department of Transportation between 2015 and 2018.

The most recent data available shows a steady increase in the number of complaints:

  • 2015: 26,401
  • 2016: 27,842
  • 2017: 29,312
  • 2018: 30,950

These statistics do not surprise a single American legislator.

“Wheelchairs and other medical devices are part of our body. My wheelchair are my legs. It’s not, you know, baggage. If you break my wheelchair, you literally broke my legs because I can’t get around without it, ”said Senator Tammy Duckworth, a Democrat from Illinois.

Duckworth, a veteran and double amputee, fought to pass a bill requiring the transportation department to report damage to wheelchairs and scooters by airlines every month.

It shows that since 2018 some of the major airlines have lost or damaged 15,425 wheelchairs and scooters.

“Now we are starting to have the data. So I think they should definitely report some additional information on what these complaints are. You have to train your staff, ”Duckworth said. “The people who handle our wheelchairs are not trained to handle wheelchairs, their porters. “

An investigative television Our analysis of the data shows that the majority of disability-related complaints are lodged against the country’s four largest airlines. American tops the list with over 25,945 complaints, followed by Delta with 25,011, United with 19,513 and Southwest Airlines with 17,904 complaints.

InvestigateTV has contacted the four major airlines. A spokesperson for Delta responded with a written statement:

“We believe that traveling is for everyone, and it is our priority to provide the best service and ensure accessibility for all Delta customers. We understand the frustrations that arise when we fail and apologize to these customers for their experience. By listening to customer feedback, we work proactively with our Disability Advisory Board and interdivisional operational teams to continually improve the travel experience for our customers with disabilities.

But Heather Ansley of Paralyzed Veterans of America disagrees.

“Often times they don’t have the best training, communication can be difficult and these people put themselves in danger because they don’t know how to lift people properly,” said Ansley, who works as an associate executive director. from the Association. government relations. “They put the person in danger.

She said she saw wheelchairs that were misused, mishandled, lost and damaged.

“Many people who use wheelchairs or have other disabilities choose not to fly,” she said.

When asked about working with travelers with disabilities, the Airlines for America business group, which represents the airline industry, told InvestigateTV:

“All US carriers provide initial and recurrent training on welcoming disabled passengers to employees and contractors who work with the traveling public, which includes boarding and disembarking assistance for wheelchair passengers and awareness and appropriate responses to disabled passengers. “

For Lanny Hill, flying taught him a hard lesson, and he hopes the airlines will learn a valuable one as well.

“I think all airlines should be trained. I mean, to be honest with you, baggage claim folks have to learn how to handle the equipment properly, ”Hill said. “I want to be a voice and I want to help others because of what happened to me.”

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