Despite the wide array of available tools to prevent wheelchair damage, airlines continue to mishandle large numbers of mobility devices — in the first eight months of 2023, some 31 devices per day have been delayed, damaged or destroyed.

Permobil F3 power wheelchair with a bent wheel base, missing drive wheel and torn seat back and cushion.

Typically, I review these statistics on an annual basis — see the 2022 Ranking of the Best and Worst U.S. Airlines for Wheelchair Users — however, moving forward, I’ll begin tracking this data each month to hold carriers accountable. Disabled travelers don’t get a day off from the pain and suffering caused by a damaged wheelchair; airlines shouldn’t get a break from accountability on this website.

Based on DOT data from November 2021 through October 2022 utilized in my 2022 ranking, here’s how carriers stacked up with regard to the frequency of mishandled wheelchairs:

  1. Allegiant — 0.40%
  2. Delta Air Lines — 0.83%
  3. United Airlines — 1.06%
  4. Alaska Airlines — 1.46%
  5. Frontier Airlines — 1.65%
  6. Southwest Airlines — 1.77%
  7. American Airlines — 2.02%
  8. JetBlue Airways — 5.11%
  9. Spirit — 5.60%

Turning to the 2023 calendar year, data from the DOT’s monthly Air Travel Consumer Reports has revealed that, in the first eight months of 2023, some carriers have made tremendous progress in limiting damage to wheelchairs, while others have continued to lag behind. Here is the full data set:

January-August 2023 Airline Wheelchair Damage Statistics

From January to August 2023, the 10 largest U.S. airlines have carried a total of 544,561 personal mobility devices, mishandling 7,602 of them, or 31 per day, for an industry average rate of 1.40%. Here is an early 2023 ranking of carriers based on the frequency of wheelchair delay, damage or destruction using the available data:

  1. Allegiant Airlines — 0.06% (9 mishandled of 14,314 carried)
  2. Delta Air Lines — 0.68% (890 mishandled of 130,887 carried)
  3. United Airlines — 1.20% (1,176 mishandled of 98,287 carried)
  4. Hawaiian Airlines — 1.51% (108 mishandled of 7,160 carried)
  5. Southwest Airlines — 1.65% (2,206 mishandled of 133,679 carried)
  6. JetBlue Airways — 1.67% (334 mishandled of 20,004 carried)
  7. American Airlines — 1.83% (1,730 mishandled of 94,436 carried)
  8. Frontier Airlines — 1.88% (350 mishandled of 18,629 carried)
  9. Alaska Airlines — 1.92% (388 mishandled of 20,170 carried)
  10. Spirit Airlines — 5.88% (411 mishandled of 6,995 carried)

Five carriers — Allegiant, American, Delta, JetBlue and Southwest — reduced the frequency of mishandled wheelchairs in 2023, while Alaska, Frontier, Spirit and United saw an increase. Hawaiian Airlines, which mishandled wheelchairs 1.51% of the time and ranked fourth among all carriers, was added to my data set for the first time.

Spirit Airlines continues to be an outlier, mishandling 5.88% of wheelchairs in 2023, up from 5.60% in 2022. This data point raises questions and leads me to believe that the carrier may not be keeping proper track of the total number of wheelchairs and scooters that are enplaned — Spirit serves more than three times the passengers of Hawaiian, does it really transport fewer wheelchairs?

Each month, with the release of the DOT’s Air Travel Consumer Report, we’ll track the progress of airlines with regard to wheelchair damage and, in the first quarter of 2024, a more holistic view of air carriers’ 2023 performance will take shape, as we consider the broader picture including frequency of disability complaints, lost luggage, delays and more. Will Delta Air Lines retain the top spot in the overall ranking of best airline for wheelchair users, or will another carrier pull ahead on the strength of these additional metrics?

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