The airline damaged or destroyed my wheelchair — what happens now?

In meeting wheelchair users all across the world, I’ve discovered that the greatest fear that keeps people from traveling is the thought of a damaged wheelchair. I get it — my wheelchair has replaced my legs and, without it, I’m stuck. Completely immobile. That’s a nightmare.

Damaged wheelchairs are somewhat rare — less than 2% of wheelchairs are damaged, according to DOT statistics — and destroyed wheelchairs are like unicorns (sort of). I say “sort of” because I’ve had my wheelchair written off as a “total loss” on four occasions, each time after it was dropped from the airplane’s cargo hold down onto the tarmac. Thud. Crash. Crack? I’m not sure, but my wheelchairs, ranging in price from $25,000 to $40,000, were mangled beyond repair. In my 900+ flights across countless airlines and airports, that nightmare has only come four times. That’s a likelihood of less than 0.5%, which are not great odds, but a destroyed wheelchair still seems very rare.

The good news is that if a U.S. airline damages (or destroys) your mobility equipment, they are on the hook for 100% of the repair or replacement cost, up to 100% of the original purchase/list price. They’re also expected to accommodate you with a loaner chair for as long as the repairs take. Repairs can often take weeks and replacement wheelchairs are delivered in weeks to months, which can be a significant hardship for many. For those who would prefer not to wait on a third-party contractor to repair or replace a damaged wheelchair, you can request a direct payment of the necessary cost of repairs. If an airline refuses to honor such a request, be sure to file a complaint with the U.S. Department of Transportation.

Here’s the thing — if your wheelchair has been damaged, report it immediately — even if the damage is minor. Was your fender cracked? Armrest bent? Seat cushion torn? Headlight smashed? Joystick knob missing? Report it immediately at the airline’s baggage office. Directly after your flight. Delaying your damage report could be the difference between a speedy repair and a monthlong argument ending with a denial. If your airline returns your wheelchair with a black eye, seek “medical treatment” for it immediately!

Be sure to read the FAQ on steps you can take to prevent wheelchair damage on airplanes.

An airline lost my checked luggage. What do I do?

Airlines occasionally lose, mishandle or delay baggage that passengers check with them.  The cause of such disruptions or delays is diverse.  For the disabled traveler, this is often more than an inconvenience.  This article contains tips on how to prevent separation from your baggage and what to do when it does happen.

Preventing separation from your bags

One of the most preventable causes of mishandled or misdirected baggage is an improper baggage label.  Every passenger should inspect the baggage label when checking a bag to ensure that the flight numbers and destination listed match your itinerary.  Passengers checking baggage should also check-in at least 45 minutes prior to departure to ensure that baggage makes it onto your flight.

Another common reason for baggage delays are tight connections.  The shorter your connection, the less time baggage handlers and ground crew will have to move your luggage from your inbound to your connecting flight.  As a general rule, you should allow 45 minutes connecting time to ensure your bag successfully changes flights with you.

Some checked bags are held for screening by the Transportation Security Administration.  To prevent your bag from being held by the TSA, consult the list of prohibited items for checked baggage at

Luggage not at baggage claim? What to do:

If you purposefully booked longer connections to allow for a smooth transfer between flights, it is possible that your bags made it to your final destination on an earlier flight.

If your bag is not at baggage claim when you arrive, report your airline’s baggage service office. These offices are traditionally located near the bank of baggage carousels utilized by your airline.

Locating your lost or delayed items is much easier if you have your claim receipt or boarding pass. Most airlines scan and track baggage throughout the transit journey, and information is often readily available. The staff will typically be able to pinpoint where the checked luggage was last scanned, and if it missed your flight.

Airline staff will provide direction on your options, which often include the following:

  • Delayed baggage can be delivered directly to your hotel or residence, once it has been located and delivered to your destination airport.
  • If your luggage is en route on a flight that is soon arriving, passengers are welcome to wait at the airport.
  • If you will be separated from your baggage and need to purchase essential items, you are free to do so. U.S. law mandates that airlines reimburse passengers for such purchases. Depending on your needs and purpose of travel, these necessary items can be as simple as bathroom toiletries or a replacement dress or suit.
  • If your baggage is irretrievably lost, you will be able to file a claim with the airline to be compensated for its value. Policies vary by airline, so familiarize yourself with the information available on your carrier’s website prior to travel.

My baggage and/or its contents were damaged. What recourse do I have?

Only a small percentage of luggage is damaged beyond the scope of “normal wear and tear.” Still, if significant damage has occurred, the airline is responsible.

Most carriers have replacement luggage stocked at their baggage service offices. A replacement can often be provided directly at the airport.

If the contents of your luggage were damaged, you will need to file a claim to be reimbursed. Claims are taken at the airport, but you will not receive compensation until later – usually by check or electronic funds transfer into your bank account. If you checked electronic equipment, such as video cameras or computers, you will not be covered for loss or damage unless the airline approved the carriage of such items.

Damage should always be reported at the airport. Check your luggage for damage before you depart!