For all the hassle and cost associated with flying, you would think the airlines would be able to accomplish the bare minimum of getting passengers and their luggage to the destination at the same time. A disabled traveler was stranded at the airport for hours because their wheelchair somehow didn’t make it on the plane.
Insider reported Xavi Santiago’s ordeal when they flew from Los Angeles to Orlando. Xavi originally booked a direct flight from LA to Orlando due to previous experience on how airlines handle disabled travelers, but the flight was adjusted to include a layover in Miami. That is when the process started to go awry.
Santiago said that on that connecting flight she was unable to pre-board which is typically the protocol for folks with mobility issues.
“That’s always how it goes, I pre-board, I get transferred while the plane is still empty or while other disabled people or other people who are pre-boarding are still getting on…That didn’t happen. There was no wheelchair attendant or accessible attendant to get me into the transfer seat.”
Once Santiago arrived in Miami the airline informed them that the wheelchair did not make it onto the connecting flight. Santiago was worried that the $22,000 electric power chair was lost or would show up damaged.
“I was convinced that it was not going to make it on the flight and that if I got it back, it was going to be damaged. Just with how many people told me that they hadn’t seen my chair,”
These fears are not unfounded, as airlines do not have the best track record of safely handling mobility devices. This year a passenger had not one, but two expensive chairs were broken within a month after flying American Airlines. And I’ve written about my own experience with an airline breaking my wife’s wheelchair.
Even though the airline offered a loaner chair, Santiago could not leave the airport and was stuck there for five hours until the chair showed up. While Santiago’s ordeal could have been worse it could also have been easily avoided.
“I couldn’t leave the airport. It was really difficult for me to get moved and go to the bathroom, hard for me to transfer in and out because the chair isn’t my own. It’s not made to meet my needs…I was just uncomfortable and stuck there for several, and it was awful.”
American Airlines offered a $300 travel voucher, but Santiago does not want to fly American again.
“While there is a part of me that wants to use the bare minimum of what they’ll give me, I barely want to fly again…I really don’t think I’ll ever fly with American Airlines, and I sure as hell am never going to the Miami airport again.”
A Department of Transportation report published in July revealed that US airlines saw a 108% increase in complaints from flyers with disabilities, from 76 in May 2019 to 158 in the same month this year.
It seems like the only way airlines will take better care of disabled travelers is if there are updated regulations mandating them to do so.