American Airlines’ Awful Wheelchair Mishandling

American Airlines’ Awful Wheelchair Mishandling

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Customer service in the airline industry can often leave a bit to be desired, to put it mildly. However, our average grievances about airlines pale in comparison to what many with limited mobility deal with, where complete disregard is shown for their basic needs. Here’s the latest example of that…

Gate checked wheelchair goes flying

A video posted on TikTok yesterday shows how some American Airlines ramp workers were handling wheelchairs on a flight. Jet bridges (through which passengers board aircraft) often have chutes that lead down to the apron. This is so that gate checked belongings can be transported there, and then placed in the cargo hold.

In a video that has been posted online and has already been viewed well over a million times across platforms, you can see a wheelchair being sent down a chute, and then going flying. Not surprisingly, when you send something with wheels down a ramp, it’s not necessarily going to slow down.

What makes this even worse is that the person who took the video claims that this had been done to two wheelchairs before the video started, so this was just how they were handling them. The TikTok user also claims that the baggage handlers were laughing while doing this.

Airlines need more accountability with wheelchairs

Of course the tendency is to blame the ramp workers who are pictured in this video, and who apparently just don’t care that these wheelchairs are someone’s lifeline for getting around.

However, there are systematic problems that go way beyond the frontline workers, and changes need to start at the top. I mean, airlines install these chutes in order to transport items, so it’s not surprising that a wheelchair (with, you know, wheels) isn’t just going to stop at the bottom of the these.

Ramp agents are really set up to fail here. Wheelchairs are typically extremely heavy, and jet bridges have narrow staircases. If ramp workers are supposed to safely carry wheelchairs down the stairs, they need to have access to a better system.

Given the number of wheelchairs that are damaged by airlines, the Department of Transportation (DOT) started publishing statistics a few years back about the extent to which airlines mishandle wheelchairs. For example, in 2022, US airlines mishandled 11,389 wheelchairs or scooters, representing 1.54% of the items carried.

This is well over twice the rate at which checked bags are mishandled, which is a rate of 0.64%. One would hope that wheelchairs would be handled with more care and more of a focus on getting to destinations than a random checked bag, but that’s not the case.

It sure seems to me like it’s time for the DOT to do something to hold airlines accountable for their poor handling of wheelchairs. It’s great to gather data, but if you’re not going to do anything with it, what’s the point? Airlines do such a poor job not because they aren’t capable of doing better, but because they’re not incentivized to do better.

How about fining airlines that have issues with more than a certain percentage of wheelchairs? If they’re unable to reduce damage, how about forcing them to store wheelchair storage in the cabin (in lieu of seats)? I’m sure if that were on the table, they’d suddenly find a great system for safely transporting wheelchairs…

We can’t just sit here and point fingers at the poorly paid ground agents who are basically set up to fail, when the executives don’t come up with any better solutions.

Bottom line

A video is going viral of American Airlines baggage handlers mishandling a wheelchair. The wheelchair is pushed down a chute, and then goes flying, which shouldn’t come as a surprise. While there’s always outrage when videos like this are posted, the anger should be directed at airline management for not creating a better system for the safe handling of wheelchairs, rather than the frontline workers, who are just put into a crappy situation.

What do you make of this wheelchair situation?

Conversations (32)
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  1. Indian peeing scorpian Guest

    I wish it had one of those people on it that did not need a wheel chair to clear TSA or Customs.

  2. iamhere Guest

    It seems you rarely travel with handicapped people. I cannot tell you how many wheelchairs of relatives of mine were damaged over the years because of airline handling. It is just so common. One is lucky the wheelchairs usually work when you arrive at the destination.

  3. JTF Guest

    AA is not alone. Air Canada may be worse: https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/air-canada-passengers-with-disabilities-violations-1.7023690

  4. AD Diamond

    @Ben, thanks for reminding us that most of our problems are trivial compared to the problems that folks with limited mobility experience when traveling. It does remind me that not getting the room I reserved and getting a bonus view of a wall (my room last week - thank's Magnolia Denver) is truly trivial.

    Reality checks are good.

  5. BradStPete Diamond

    There was a time about 15 years ago when I needed to use a wheelchair a considerable amount of time and always while traveling. I fly out of Tampa and like all Florida airports, Tampa is very wheelchair centric. I must say that I always flew Delta and was always treated with utmost courtesy and kindness in Tampa, Atlanta and Salt Lake which is where I traveled to on several occasions.
    Being is a...

    There was a time about 15 years ago when I needed to use a wheelchair a considerable amount of time and always while traveling. I fly out of Tampa and like all Florida airports, Tampa is very wheelchair centric. I must say that I always flew Delta and was always treated with utmost courtesy and kindness in Tampa, Atlanta and Salt Lake which is where I traveled to on several occasions.
    Being is a chair suddenly but even temporarily is a sobering experience and there must be a special place for airport and airline workers who are empathetic, patient and kind

    1. AD Diamond

      @Brad, agreed on the sobering experience. I used a wheelchair at an airport exactly once before I had back surgery 20+ years ago. You get a lot of perspective - and I had the same experience - DL staff were incredibly kind and helpful.

  6. Miami305 Member

    What happened was terrible... but WOW... what a strong wheelchair!

  7. Corina Grossmann Guest

    Lufthansa is just as bad with wheelchairs as well as luggage.

  8. RF Diamond

    Send the AA executives down that slide and then make them implement changes.

  9. JB Guest

    My mother has been travelling with a wheelchair or electric scooter since I was born, and I traveled a lot with her, especially in my childhood. With electric scooters and wheelchairs, airlines typically transport them via an elevator. Some airports have these elevators at each gate (e.g. DXB), while others have them every few gates (MIA). Each airport and airline has its own policy, and some airports are better than others. For example, we've always...

    My mother has been travelling with a wheelchair or electric scooter since I was born, and I traveled a lot with her, especially in my childhood. With electric scooters and wheelchairs, airlines typically transport them via an elevator. Some airports have these elevators at each gate (e.g. DXB), while others have them every few gates (MIA). Each airport and airline has its own policy, and some airports are better than others. For example, we've always had a long wait at MIA when flying AA. We'll be the last ones off the plane, and it's because we're getting kicked off because the plane has been cleaned and the passengers on the new flight need to start boarding. But I have to say, the FAs are always so nice and give us free snacks. It's so cool to have a 737 to your self with 4 FAs and some cleaners!

    We travel with a light mobility scooter, and it only weighs about 140 pounds, 50 of which is the detachable battery. I'll often see the ramp workers carry it down via the stairs on the side of the jetbridge.

    I agree that we need to see more accountability for this in the aviation industry. My mother always tried to take a beat up scooter or wheelchair when we flew because of the likelihood of damages.

    The best country I have ever seen in terms of care for mobility devices was Japan. However, the agents at JAL at HND had never seen a device like that before, and they had to resort to their books to see if it was allowed onboard. We had a staff of 8 JAL employees to ourselves at the First Class check in counter all looking at their books! It was honestly entertaining, but also a little frustrating. We have traveled extensively with that scooter so of course it was allowed on the plane (how else would we get it to Japan). But at the gate, they wrapped it up so extensively, like a shipping company would do with a high end shipment. They took such good care of it. The problem was they wrapped it in front of us on the jetbridge. Then, they didn't have a way of getting it downstairs lol. The scooter has a tow function, but it's light enough that it can be carried (when in its normal shape, not wrapped). So they had to unwrap it and re did it again on the ramp. It was fun to watch, and I have never seen anyone take such good care of it when flying.

  10. Donna Diamond

    I’m sure we can all agree that this is just not right. What confuses me a bit is that a wheelchair is being gate checked given that normally I see people being wheeled up on airport wheelchairs by airport employees. Aren’t wheelchairs checked with baggage normally?

    1. Extraordinary1 Member

      You cannot say an airline is the worst just because of one bad incident. If you are going to be objective about your ranking, American is one of the best U.S. airlines.

    2. Tim Dunn Diamond

      according to DOT data, AA consistently has one of the worst baggage mishandling rates among US airlines and also one of the worst for handling of wheelchairs and scooters, both of which the DOT track

      The first step in healing is admitting you have a problem

    3. JB Guest

      It depends on what the passenger wishes. They have the option of gate checking that wheelchair so they can use it throughout the airport (at no cost). This way they can also get their wheelchair at the jet bridge on arrival.

    4. Donna Diamond

      @Extraordinary1 - I didn’t take a shot at AA.

    5. Extraordinary1 Member

      Apologies, I meant to replied to the wrong comment.

  11. Larry Guest

    As someone who travels with a wheelchair user, AA is pretty much the worst of the 4 major domestic airlines and by a wide margin. Southwest is probably the best, though they all have issues. It's just not a priority, and the way that they have to run things to turn quickly and keep the planes on time is just not consistent with proper wheelchair handling. It sucks, but it is what it is. I...

    As someone who travels with a wheelchair user, AA is pretty much the worst of the 4 major domestic airlines and by a wide margin. Southwest is probably the best, though they all have issues. It's just not a priority, and the way that they have to run things to turn quickly and keep the planes on time is just not consistent with proper wheelchair handling. It sucks, but it is what it is. I hope for better, but really don't expect anything to change. Stuff breaks all the time, and they just don't care. You wait in line, you fill out a form, they give you their contractor of dubious competence, and you do the best you can. We recently had one baggage guy basically come up to tell us, "you're going to need to make a claim" before he brought the chair up. He wanted to know if we knew how, and sadly we do. I think most of us take independence for granted and so don't have a great sense of the barriers to it for those who need this kind of assistance, so it can be kind of heartbreaking. But nothing is going to change. They view the repairs and the occasional public relations hit as the cost of doing business and far cheaper than making actual changes would be, and there really isn't incentive to change. Maybe someone in power will have a bad experience and suddenly discover it's an issue, but I doubt it.

    1. Tony Guest

      Unfortunately, people with enough power to make any change are probably not flying commercial...

    2. Extraordinary1 Member

      You cannot say an airline is the worst just because of one bad incident. If you are going to be objective about your ranking, American is one of the best U.S. airlines.

  12. BenjaminGuttery Diamond

    Everyone should care about this issue, since more often than not, alot of these wheelchair are paid for by Tax Dollars (medicare, medicaid, SSI, etc). Then paid for again earn being replaced by, You guessed it: more Tax Dollars. Then the ones that are replaced by the company are paid for by all travelers with increased costs/prices. No one should cheer on or laugh of waste like this.

  13. JJ Guest

    I simple strap with a hook could easily lower the wheelchair down without the need to walk. I don't think it be too heavy to control but if you want to over-engineer it so it doesn't uncontrollably fall after muscle fatigue or something then that be fine too. Or an elevator system where the bottom plate can bring things up/down like what roofers use when bringing shingles up.

  14. derek Guest

    The length and steep angle of the slides results in rough handling of any suitcase or wheelchair that is placed on the slide. The possible exception might be a plastic bag that has a pillow as its contents.

    1. Kelley P Diamond

      Hence why I NEVER agree to gate check my carry on....

  15. D3kingg Guest

    “Wheelchair’s are a lifeline for getting around “ is an oxymoron. Mobility is not a lifeline. Having a pulse and breathing are.

    Although handicap accessible people are protected by ADA which could be legal problems for American. I can’t believe people get their news from Tik Tok.

    1. DCAWABN Guest

      Funny... In your urgent need for pedantry, you confused "oxymoron" with "contradiction in terms". Look up the definition here: https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/oxymoron

      Even worse, you dolt, is that "Wheelchair's [sic] are a lifeline for getting around" is neither of those. At worst, it's a mischaracterization. And your superfluous apostrophe in "wheelchairs" is also misplaced. If you're going to be a pedantic prick, at least be correct, both in thematic idea and grammar.

      Funny... In your urgent need for pedantry, you confused "oxymoron" with "contradiction in terms". Look up the definition here: https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/oxymoron

      Even worse, you dolt, is that "Wheelchair's [sic] are a lifeline for getting around" is neither of those. At worst, it's a mischaracterization. And your superfluous apostrophe in "wheelchairs" is also misplaced. If you're going to be a pedantic prick, at least be correct, both in thematic idea and grammar.

    2. D3Kingg Guest

      Racist ! Anti semitic terrorist supporting holocaust sympathizer bin laden admiring democrat !

    3. DaddyLongStrokes Guest

      You're both a couple of tools

    4. Doctor Theopolis Guest

      Somebody has an urgent need for pedantry.

  16. Maryland Guest

    For those dependent on the wheelchair, such irreverent behavior could be devastating and stressful. What is wrong with people to ignore the needs of others?

  17. Tim Dunn Diamond

    it's funny that you manage to find the DOT's statistics on wheelchair mishandling relative to baggage but didn't find (or don't want to publish) that AA is consistently at the bottom of the list of US airlines for baggage handling in general and for wheelchairs and scooters.

    Remember, though, they are caring for you along life's journey.

  18. David Diamond

    North American airlines really have a lot to learn from their Asian counterparts (especially the Japanese).

  19. ArnoldB Guest

    I agree, but don't excuse the ground agents' actions. This is clearly antisocial behavior and they should be sanctioned adequatly.

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The comments on this page have not been provided, reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any advertiser, and it is not an advertiser's responsibility to ensure posts and/or questions are answered.

DCAWABN Guest

Funny... In your urgent need for pedantry, you confused "oxymoron" with "contradiction in terms". Look up the definition here: https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/oxymoron Even worse, you dolt, is that "Wheelchair's <i>[sic]</i> are a lifeline for getting around" is neither of those. At worst, it's a mischaracterization. And your superfluous apostrophe in "wheelchairs" is also misplaced. If you're going to be a pedantic prick, at least be correct, both in thematic idea and grammar.

7
RF Diamond

Send the AA executives down that slide and then make them implement changes.

4
JB Guest

My mother has been travelling with a wheelchair or electric scooter since I was born, and I traveled a lot with her, especially in my childhood. With electric scooters and wheelchairs, airlines typically transport them via an elevator. Some airports have these elevators at each gate (e.g. DXB), while others have them every few gates (MIA). Each airport and airline has its own policy, and some airports are better than others. For example, we've always had a long wait at MIA when flying AA. We'll be the last ones off the plane, and it's because we're getting kicked off because the plane has been cleaned and the passengers on the new flight need to start boarding. But I have to say, the FAs are always so nice and give us free snacks. It's so cool to have a 737 to your self with 4 FAs and some cleaners! We travel with a light mobility scooter, and it only weighs about 140 pounds, 50 of which is the detachable battery. I'll often see the ramp workers carry it down via the stairs on the side of the jetbridge. I agree that we need to see more accountability for this in the aviation industry. My mother always tried to take a beat up scooter or wheelchair when we flew because of the likelihood of damages. The best country I have ever seen in terms of care for mobility devices was Japan. However, the agents at JAL at HND had never seen a device like that before, and they had to resort to their books to see if it was allowed onboard. We had a staff of 8 JAL employees to ourselves at the First Class check in counter all looking at their books! It was honestly entertaining, but also a little frustrating. We have traveled extensively with that scooter so of course it was allowed on the plane (how else would we get it to Japan). But at the gate, they wrapped it up so extensively, like a shipping company would do with a high end shipment. They took such good care of it. The problem was they wrapped it in front of us on the jetbridge. Then, they didn't have a way of getting it downstairs lol. The scooter has a tow function, but it's light enough that it can be carried (when in its normal shape, not wrapped). So they had to unwrap it and re did it again on the ramp. It was fun to watch, and I have never seen anyone take such good care of it when flying.

4
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