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?

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