When Congress passed the FAA Reauthorization Act last year, they included a rule that requires airlines to report the total number of wheelchairs carried and mishandled each month. The first set of data, collected between December 4, 2018 and December 31, 2018, was released by the Department of Transportation in the February 2019 Air Travel Consumer Report.

Over that time, a total of 701 wheelchairs and scooters were mishandled or damaged by the 12 largest U.S. airlines.

Wheelchair damage data from February 2019 ATCR.
Wheelchair damage data from February 2019 ATCR.

Despite being given more than a year to prepare for the reporting of this data, American Airlines and Southwest Airlines failed to track the total number of wheelchairs and scooters enplaned. The following footnotes were included in the ATCR:

**Southwest informed the Department that for December 2018, it reported mishandlings of all power-assisted and manual wheelchairs and scooters; however, Southwest stated that its enplaned wheelchairs and scooters number did not include any manual wheelchairs enplaned by the carrier. Southwest has disclosed to the Department that it will have the ability to reliably capture manual wheelchairs enplaned on or after January 15, 2019, in its enplaned wheelchairs and scooters number submitted to the Department.

***American informed the Department that for December 2018, it reported mishandlings of all power-assisted and manual wheelchairs and scooters; however, American stated that its process for determining the enplanement number of wheelchairs and scooters may not have consistently accounted for all wheelchairs and scooters enplaned. American has also stated that this process may have impacted American’s wholly- owned subsidiary Envoy and American’s other branded code share carriers ExpressJet and SkyWest. American has indicated to the Department that it is enhancing its process to reliably capture all reportable enplaned wheelchairs and scooters, which may take a few months.

By underreporting the total number of wheelchairs and scooters carried, American and Southwest negatively impacted their ranking, which is based on the likelihood of damage occurring.

The two carriers still accounted for the largest number of mishandled mobility devices, with Southwest at 186 and American at 151. Delta Air Lines damaged the third most wheelchairs at 101, but those accounted for less than 1 percent of total wheelchairs and scooters enplaned by the carrier.

Looking at the data set as a whole, the likelihood of damage to wheelchairs and scooters in the month of December 2018 was around 2%. Since the data is based only on damage reported by passengers, it is important for wheelchair users to file a claim each time a mobility device is mishandled, even if the damage is minor or cosmetic. The Air Carrier Access Act states that wheelchairs and scooters must be returned “in the same condition” in which they were received.

I will continue to track this data and report it to you here on WheelchairTravel.org each month. As more data is received and the sample size grows, we should gain a clearer picture of which airlines are treating wheelchairs and scooters with the greatest care and respect and which would be best to avoid.


Featured image courtesy Fox News.

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