Key Points:
  • A TikTok video showing an American Airlines baggage handler mishandling a wheelchair has sparked concerns about the treatment of mobility devices in air travel.

  • The incident adds to the growing data indicating a rise in damage, delay, or loss of wheelchairs by airlines, with American Airlines showing a concerning trend.

  • Legislators and the Department of Transportation (DOT) are taking steps to improve travel conditions for disabled passengers, including potential policy changes and new legislation.

Incident at Miami International Airport Raises Alarm

American Airlines is conducting an internal review following a TikTok video that captured a baggage handler at Miami International Airport improperly handling a passenger’s wheelchair. The video, which went viral with millions of views, showed the wheelchair sliding down a jet bridge chute, crashing, and flipping over onto the tarmac. This incident has brought attention to the broader issue of how airlines handle mobility devices, a concern for millions of disabled Americans.

@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

Statistics Show a Disturbing Trend in Wheelchair Mishandling

According to Paralyzed Veterans of America, over 31 wheelchairs are damaged, delayed, or lost daily by airline workers. American Airlines specifically mishandled 226 wheelchairs and scooters in August 2023, showing a worsening trend in their handling of mobility devices. The airline ranked 13th among 15 major US carriers in this respect, according to DOT data.

Response from American Airlines and Legislative Actions

American Airlines acknowledged the seriousness of the situation, affirming their commitment to supporting the independence of customers with disabilities. The airline is working on improving employee training and introducing wheelchair movers and lifts at major airports. However, no specific timeline for these initiatives has been provided. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg deemed the incident “totally unacceptable” and confirmed that the DOT would investigate.

Legislative Efforts to Improve Disabled Passengers’ Travel Experience

Senators Tammy Duckworth and John Thune have introduced the MOBILE Act to address the challenges faced by passengers who use mobility aids. The bill requires more detailed reporting on wheelchair and scooter damage and studies the feasibility of in-flight wheelchair use. Representatives Steve Cohen and Pete Stauber have introduced a similar bill in the House. These legislative efforts aim to enhance the travel experience for disabled passengers, ensuring their mobility devices are handled with care and respect.

The Path Forward in Enhancing Disability Rights in Air Travel

The viral video and subsequent outcry underscore the urgent need for improved handling of mobility devices in the airline industry. With legislative actions underway and heightened scrutiny from the DOT, there is hope for significant improvements in the travel experience for passengers with disabilities. These efforts reflect a growing recognition of the rights and needs of disabled travelers, aiming to ensure their journeys are as seamless and respectful as those of other passengers.