Airlines must now report the number of wheelchairs and mobility scooters transported and mishandled each month, with that data being released through the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Air Travel Consumer Reports. The May 2019 ATCR contains data from the entire first quarter of 2019 (January-March), and suggests that airlines have made little progress to improve wheelchair handling since reporting began in December.

The numbers are grim: airlines have mishandled/damaged more than 2,000 wheelchairs and scooters in the first quarter alone. The quarterly report has been reproduced below.

Data on mishandled wheelchairs from the DOT's May 2019 Air Travel Consumer Report.
Data on mishandled wheelchairs from the DOT’s May 2019 Air Travel Consumer Report.

2,033 mishandled wheelchairs is a massive number. Behind each damaged mobility device is a person whom one or more air carriers have burdened without compensation. Any further restriction of a disabled person’s mobility can lead to lost time, wages and opportunities—as well as significant health risks—that are not reported in this data.

On average, 1.82 percent of wheelchairs carried were mishandled or damaged in the first quarter. American Airlines and its branded codeshare partners were the worst offenders, together mishandling nearly 25 percent of all wheelchairs transported by airlines in the reporting period. Southwest was close behind with 492 damaged wheelchairs, followed by Delta with 323 (but at an industry-best 0.81% frequency).

Finally, I would like to draw your attention to the following chart, which includes data on the more than 117 million pieces of luggage carried by airlines in the first quarter.

Data on mishandled baggage from the DOT's May 2019 Air Travel Consumer Report.
Data on mishandled baggage from the DOT’s May 2019 Air Travel Consumer Report.

Across all carriers for which data was reported, approximately one-half of one percent of checked luggage was mishandled in the first quarter. In the same period, the industry damaged wheelchairs and scooters more than 3 times more frequently. That airlines treat the most expensive luggage (wheelchairs costing thousands of dollars) with less care than a $50 bag seems absurd, but that’s what the data shows.

The carrier that damaged the largest number of wheelchairs and at the greatest frequency in the first quarter, American Airlines, also mishandled checked luggage at a rate 36% higher than the industry average. I’ve never seen an actual dumpster fire, but this might be what it looks like…

In case you missed it, here’s a video of my wheelchair being mishandled by American Airlines earlier this year. When mobility devices are treated like mine was, it’s no surprise they are damaging more wheelchairs and scooters than any other airline.

Featured image courtesy Delta Air Lines.

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