A widely shared social media video is the latest evidence that airlines have room to improve when it comes to handling mobility devices.
USA TODAY has reported on mobility device damage by airlines throughout 2023, and Department of Transportation data shows that more than 11,000 wheelchairs, scooters and other such devices were damaged or destroyed by U.S. airlines in 2022.
The video, originally posted to TikTok over the weekend, shows a wheelchair racing down a jet bridge chute and then somersaulting through the air before landing on the tarmac in Miami. A baggage handler wearing an American Airlines vest stands by as it happens and then loads the chair onto a baggage cart.
“We recognize how important it is to support the independence of customers with disabilities by ensuring the proper care of mobility devices throughout their journey with us. This visual is deeply concerning and we are gathering more details so that we can address them with our team. We will continue to work hard to improve our handling of assistive devices across our network,” American Airlines spokesperson Amy Lawrence said in a statement to USA TODAY.
American said it is working to improve training for its employees handling mobility devices. The airline added it is installing wheelchair movers and lifts at airports around its network that see high numbers of mobility device users to lower the risk of damage.
Michele Erwin, founder and president of All Wheels Up, an advocacy group for disabled travelers, said this incident underscores the importance of improving training for baggage handlers who work with mobility devices.
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“It is quite distressing to see this video. The airlines, including American Airlines, are working to improve accessible air travel, specifically the handling of devices like wheelchairs, but as we can see, more training is needed,” Erwin said in a statement. “While the 2023 FAA Reauthorization Act is delayed in getting passed, and within that bill is specific language on improved training, I wish it did not take a law or bill for the ground handlers to handle someone’s mobility aid with more care. We can see here their current training is lacking and more needs to be done.”
Zach Wichter is a travel reporter for USA TODAY based in New York. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org