Thousands of wheelchairs damaged by airlines

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CHAMPAIGN, Ill. (WCIA) — A woman’s wheelchair has been damaged multiple times by several airlines and she’s among thousands who experience the same problem.

Federal law now requires U.S. airlines to report the numbers of wheelchairs and scooters that are broken by their staff. The U.S. Department of Transportation says on average 29 wheelchairs are mishandled each day.

Previously airlines were not required to report this information. Senator Tammy Duckworth, who uses a wheelchair herself, pushed legislation for the federal aviation administration to change the requirements of airlines. Now they have to keep track of, and publicly disclose, when wheelchairs are damaged so people can be aware of those records before booking a flight.

Barb Bressner is a fairly frequent flier. She books flights a few times a year for vacations. But unfortunately, airline staff breaking her wheelchair is also a frequent occurrence. “In fact, just last year when we traveled it was damaged on the way there and on the way back.”

It’s happened to her about five times. The most recent case resulted in the fender of the wheel being cracked after she says airline staff mishandled her power chair.

Her experience isn’t an isolated incident. Between January and September this year 7,747 chairs were mishandled by airlines. Bresner says wheelchairs taken better care of because “When you depend on the chair, they’re your legs basically.”

In her case, the multiple damage reports she has filed with airlines has cost the companies thousands of dollars. Bressner believes that money could be used for something else. She says, “There needs to be training for their handlers. They shouldn’t be treating handling wheelchairs and other adaptive equipment like a piece of luggage.”

Disability advocates say the number of mishandled wheelchairs could be much higher than 29 per day because there are passengers who don’t formally report damages to the airlines or don’t notice the damage immediately.

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