Hours after publishing the most recent issue of the Wheelchair Travel Newsletter, in which I called out the USDOT for failing to publish the November 2023 Air Travel Consumer Report, the document was released (on December 1).

In the October article Checking in on Wheelchair Damage: How Airlines Are Doing, I committed to tracking wheelchair damage statistics and reporting on new data points each month, including an updated year-to-date average. Data provided in the monthly Air Travel Consumer Reports lags by two months, meaning the recently released November 2023 ATCR contains wheelchair damage data for the month of September 2023. The following chart outlines where carriers stand through September:

September 2023 & 2023 YTD Airline Wheelchair Damage Statistics

In September 2023, reporting carriers checked a total of 72,976 wheelchairs and scooters, mishandling 1,035 of them for a rate of 1.42% mishandled mobility devices, slightly higher than the year-to-date average of 1.40%.

Based on YTD data for the first three quarters of 2023, here is a ranking of airlines based on the rate (frequency) of wheelchair damage or delay:

  1. Allegiant Air — 0.07%
  2. Delta Air Lines — 0.69%
  3. United Airlines — 1.21%
  4. Hawaiian Airlines — 1.42%
  5. Southwest Airlines — 1.65%
  6. JetBlue Airways — 1.68%
  7. American Airlines — 1.82%
  8. Frontier Airlines — 1.86%
  9. Alaska Airlines — 1.87%
  10. Spirit Airlines — 5.83%

Through the first three quarters of 2023, airlines carried nearly 1,000 more wheelchairs than in 2022, but the frequency of damage has remained level — 1.41% in 2022 and 1.40% in 2023.

Some outliers in this data set raise questions. Why is Spirit Airlines treating wheelchairs so badly? Allegiant Air has reported mishandling just 10 wheelchairs this year, despite carrying more than 15,000. How has Allegiant performed so well, even without many of the tools other airlines use to prevent wheelchair damage? How trustworthy is any of this self-reported data?

In this month’s ATCR, the DOT included the following statement outlining additional work that it is doing or intends to do in response to barriers faced by disabled passengers:

To address many of the significant barriers and challenges experienced by passengers who use wheelchairs, the Department has initiated a rulemaking proposing that, if adopted after public comment would, among other actions, make it an automatic violation of the Department’s Air Carrier Access Act regulations for airlines to mishandle a passenger’s wheelchair. This Notice of Proposed Rulemaking would also enhance training requirements for airline personnel who provide hands-on transfer assistance to passengers and handle wheelchairs. This rulemaking is currently under review by the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs.

As rulemaking progresses, we’ll consider what impact this could have on passengers, if any at all — the question has been asked previously, what good is a civil right, rule or regulation if it is not enforced?

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