The Airlines Broke My Legs… Again

Just wanted to thank everyone for the outpouring of support over the last 24 hours. It took about a million zip ties to put my chair into something passable for a seating system to get me home late last night. We were able to piece together the chair United broke last year so that I have something to drive until Alaska fixes my new one. They’ve been much better at communicating, but the results will speak for themselves. For the time being, I will have to settle for limited battery power and less safety features.

No matter what happens, this is just the beginning of a larger conversation about accessible travel that must be had. This makes TWO trashed chairs from TWO different airlines in the span of exactly one year. Because I’m paralyzed from the neck down, these chairs are more than just my legs, they are also my arms and extensions of my brain; they are how I control my telephone, access my home and run my business. In short, they are my life, and that should not be put at risk every time I want to travel and Do Life.

Everyone knows The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) as a seminal piece of civil rights legislation, but The Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA) predates it by four years and prohibits commercial airlines from discriminating against passengers with disabilities. The law is more than 30 years old and yet I still cannot sit in my own seat on an airplane today.

If you want to see that change, contact your elected officials and tell them to support the new Air Carrier Access Amendment Act (link), which was reintroduced just last week by Senators Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), Maggie Hassan (D-NH) and Ed Markey (D-MA).

If you have a similar story of an airline breaking your chair, tell them about it. If you don’t, tell them about BOTH of mine. Exhibit A & Exhibit B.

Comments

  1. Back when I worked in complex rehab/durable medical I used to see this all the time. I took time off from work to attend SBA classes with the idea to start an organization which would train major airlines in the basics of mobility equipment handling. The idea was to set up training sessions, or at least online training regarding the basics of power and manual chair operations – Wheel and accessory removal, battery safety, motor disengagement, safe handling, etc., set up a 24 hour assistance hotline that handlers could call if needed, as well as educate them about the impact that damaged equipment has on the lives of its’ owners. The idea was to offer the equivalent of a Good Housekeeping Seal that airlines could proudly claim and use as a marketing tool on top of just doing good work. Well, after drawing up a plan and talking with major manufacturers about support systems and getting ready to put things in motion I reached out to airlines and entrepreneurs about interest. I should have done that first. The overwhelming response was that there was no potential profit in it, the effort would be too much, and the liability vs expectations would be too much. It’s cheaper and easier for airlines to cut a check for a claim and turn a blind eye. Months of work died on the vine. So there you have it. Unless the ADA or some other body with legal pull can make it law don’t expect anything to change.

  2. Australian airlines use cargo containers for power chairs. If the cargo container you need for your chair doesn’t fit on a certain model aircraft, you may have limited flight options. But at least you arrive with a functional chair!

  3. That sounds like a complete nightmare. I would like to be able to travel but the wheelchair issue is a huge risk. They don’t understand the the wheelchair is an extension of your physical self. So sorry you are having to go through all of this.

  4. John Morris says:

    Had you disassembled the wheelchair, or provided instructions on how to do so, so that it could fit in the cargo hold of a Boeing 737? I assume that is the aircraft type you were on, given that you flew AS. The chair’s height looks to be significantly more than a 737 can accommodate while the wheelchair is left upright.

    • We took off every crucial component we could, wrapped the chair in foam and saran wrap and had a long conversation with handlers on both ends of the trip. Communication was not the problem, unfortunately. We took every precaution possible and things still went sideways. Love the work you do, John… Keep it up!

  5. Hmm America is good fer that. Goin on 3yrs now. But when I went back to Cali to bury my mother. On the flight back to Colorado. When I got my chair back the frame was bent 18degrees out an twisted up. Yes they fixed with a better chair. But it still took them 4months to do it. Thank God for back up chairs is all I can say. But absolutely something needs to be changed for those of us on wheels fer life.. Let me know if I can be of any help..

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