workers with wheelchair rolling fast down ramp at airport (l) workers with wheelchair flipping over ramp at airport (c) workers with wheelchair crashing off of ramp at airport (r)

@haez93/TikTok Remix by Caterina Cox

‘These chairs cost upwards of $3k’: Airline luggage workers seen mishandling wheelchair

'Not what I'd call "handling with care."'


V Roth


Posted on Nov 21, 2023

A video of airline luggage workers mishandling a wheelchair has gone viral, sparking debate about the difficulties that mobility aid users experience while flying.

In a TikTok posted on Monday, user Hae (@haez93) captured a video of airline luggage handlers tossing a wheelchair down a ramp from an airplane to the ground.

The wheelchair collides with the bottom of the ramp and flies off, crashing on the ground. The video is hashtagged “Miami,” indicating the incident took place at Miami International Airport.

In the caption, Hae revealed that this was the third wheelchair to be handled roughly by the workers, who were handling luggage from an American Airlines flight.

“Dang, after i saw them do this and laugh with the first two wheelchairs i had to get it on film,” she wrote. “That is not what id call ‘handling with care’ for someones mobility device.”

The Daily Dot reached out to Miami International Airport for comment.

@haez93 Dang, after i saw them do this and laugh with the first two wheelchairs i had to get it on film. That is not what id call “handling with care” for someones mobility device…. #AmericanAirlines #handlewithcare #mobilitydevice #wheelchair ♬ Oh No – Kreepa

In an emailed statement to the Daily Dot, a representative for American Airlines said it’s committed to the proper care of mobility devices and called the video “deeply concerning.”

“We are gathering more details so that we can address them with our team,” the representative said. “We will continue to work hard to improve our handling of assistive devices across our network.”

By Tuesday, Hae’s video had over 1.8 million views and had gone viral across TikTok and X, with many mobility aid users speaking out about the difficulty of flying while disabled.

“They broke my walker doing this,” one user wrote in the comments of Hae’s video. “I was devastated at the time, that was the only thing I could use.”

Caregiving reporter for the 19th, Sara Luterman, added context to the situation regarding the cost of wheelchairs.

“Just so everyone understands, wheelchairs are often custom-fitted devices that cost thousands of dollars,” she wrote on X. “Fixing them can involve specialty parts and a complex approval process for the majority of people who can’t just pay out of pocket.”

Airlines’ mishandling of wheelchairs

Hae’s video is far from the first time an airline has gone viral for mishandling wheelchairs.

In February, TikTok user Maayan Ziv (@maayanziv_) shared her experience of having her wheelchair broken by an airline, despite intentionally wrapping it in protective bubble wrap and tape reading “fragile.”

@maayanziv_ I can’t begin to describe how devastating this is. #disabilitytiktok #notluggage #wheelchair #fyp ♬ original sound – Maayan Ziv

In the video, Ziv is visibly devastated, stuck on the plane and waiting for an airline worker to bring her an airport-use wheelchair, which she described in a comment as “uncomfortable and difficult to sit in.”

Ziv added the hashtag “#notluggage” to her video, describing the way that wheelchairs are regarded as luggage or cargo—and are handled as such without the special care they require.

Another video from user Steve Way (@thesteveway) shows airline workers roughly mishandling his wheelchair as they struggle to lift it, breaking the chair’s armrest and custom pieces in the process.

“This is something disabled people risk every time they fly,” Way wrote in the video’s overlay text. “Not only is it the destruction of our property, but also the restriction of our access to life itself.”

Serious issues for travelers who are disabled

Although data from the U.S. Department of Transportation reports that only 1.6% of wheelchairs brought on domestic flights are broken each year, which has amounted to over 15,000 chairs since 2018, some mobility aid users suspect that the number is much higher.

In a video from May 24, writer and disability activist Imani Barbarin (@crutches_and_spice) recounts a dehumanizing experience with airline travel as a disabled person and mobility aid user. She said she was made to walk through a TSA scanner despite telling agents that she was physically unable to do so, which resulted in her falling as TSA agents failed to help.

Barbarin says in her video that despite buying a wheelchair specifically for travel, she’s unable to use it, as airline workers break “1/3rd of all wheelchairs that come through during travel.”

Although U.S. airlines are responsible for 100% of the costs of repairing a wheelchair broken during travel, it can be a lengthy and arduous process for passengers to receive payments.

WBGH News reported that it could take anywhere from six weeks to 15 months to repair a wheelchair, and users are often left stranded during that time if they cannot afford to replace it.

A cursory search on TikTok and X reveals just how widespread this phenomenon is: Thousands of commenters and users, many of them on Hae’s video, have shared that they or someone they know has experienced the traumatic ordeal of having their wheelchair broken.

Delta Airlines takes steps toward equity

In an effort to be more inclusive to wheelchair users, Delta Airlines revealed a concept for an airplane seat that would allow wheelchair users to remain in their own chair during the flight. Although still in developmental stages, many disability advocates hope that it could lead to fewer instances of broken wheelchairs in the future.

“No wheelchair securement concept has made it this far in the design and development process,” founder John Morris wrote in an email to the Washington Post. “I believe that it offers a solution that could one day make air travel significantly more accessible to millions of wheelchair users.”

Although Morris admitted that the design still had room for improvement, he added, “I’m optimistic about an accessible air travel future!”

The Daily Dot reached out to Hae via TikTok comment and to Ziv and Barbarin via Instagram direct messages.

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*First Published: Nov 21, 2023, 5:39 pm CST