I anticipated the airlines most likely to destroy a wheelchair would be American Airlines, Delta Airlines and United Airlines. Based on three months of reporting, these are indeed the worst airlines to fly for any person that uses a wheelchair. Link: https://www.transportation.gov/sites/dot.gov/files/docs/resources/individuals/aviation-consumer-protection/337111/april-2019-atcr.pdf See pages 35 to 37. Below are the results for the month of February 2019.
MISHANDLED WHEELCHAIRS AND SCOOTERS: RANKING OF U.S. REPORTING OPERATING CARRIERS* (MONTHLY)
NUMBER OF WHEELCHAIRS AND SCOOTERS ENPLANED
NUMBER OF WHEELCHAIRS AND SCOOTERS MISHANDLED
PERCENT OF WHEELCHAIRS AND SCOOTERS MISHANDLED
DELTA AIR LINES
**American informed the Department that for February 2019, it reported mishandlings of all power-assisted and manual wheelchairs and scooters; however, American stated that its process for determining the enplanement number of wheelchairs and scooters may not have consistently accounted for all wheelchairs and scooters enplaned. American has also stated that this process may have impacted American’s wholly- owned subsidiary Envoy and American’s other branded code share carriers ExpressJet and SkyWest. American has indicated to the Department that it is enhancing its process to reliably capture all reportable enplaned wheelchairs and scooters, which may take a few months.
Let's look at the worst offender: American Airlines. American Airlines still has not reliably developed a system to track all the wheelchairs placed in the cargo hold--a fact that does not inspire confidence given the fact they knew for well over a year this would be required. Based on admittedly incomplete reporting, American estimated it enplaned 2,572 wheelchairs and destroyed 113. This is misleading as American subsidiary airlines, Envoy Airlines, PSA Airlines, Endeavor Airline (an independent subsidiary that flies for American, Delta and United) enplane far fewer wheelchairs but the percentage of destroyed wheelchairs is significantly higher. By far the worst airline is American's subsidiary PSA Airline at 12.73% and Envoy Airline 7.8%
I am sure industry analysts will crow about the low percentage of wheelchairs destroyed. What will not be mentioned is the aftermath of a destroyed wheelchair. Due to the negligence of the airline industry, nearly two thousand people have had their lives severely damaged. If the airline industry does not change immediately in twelve months they will likely destroy 8,000 wheelchairs. This is a staggering number and the implications to those with a disability are profound. We wheelchair users run gauntlet when we travel. The TSA aggressively pats us down, demeans us regularly, and asks rude and intrusive questions. When I go through security TSA guards address me as "wheelchair". Airline personnel, overwhelmed, over worked and under paid, are not much better. Those tasked with getting us on and off an airplane are among the lowest paid employees at an airport and poorly trained. I am routinely injured by these people who have no idea how to secure my legs to the aisle chair. I cannot think of the last time FAA regulations were actually followed when boarding.
The devastation one experiences when your wheelchair is returned damaged beyond repair is overwhelming. When United Airlines destroyed my wheelchair I cried. I cried for my loss but I also knew that the destruction of my wheelchair would alter my life for months to come. You cannot go to the store or local rehabilitation facility and pick up a new wheelchair. For several days after United destroyed my wheelchair I could not bath nor could I get out of my apartment. A week later a badly fitting wheelchair arrived that I could manage with. Two weeks later I was assessed for a wheelchair by a seating specialist. Four weeks after that I was able to see two wheelchairs that might work and give them a spin. Seven weeks after my wheelchair was destroyed a new wheelchair was ordered. Another four weeks passed before my new wheelchair arrived. Amazingly, this is the best case scenario. Had I been a power chair user I would likely waited for many more months.
Reading the stats above, it made me think deeply about ingrained ableism. Imagine if a person without a disability was told they had to wait seven to eight weeks after their flight to have their favorite widget replaced. And it is not just the airline industry that. makes us wait. I know a person who was in a car accident. The car's hand controls were damaged. It took eight weeks to repair them. This is among the most disabling part of disability--the waiting and time lost. Like the poor, we wait for everything. First on, last off an airplane. Time lost. Wait for the elevator or single accessible stall in an airport. Wait for the mysterious accessible shuttle bus that no one knows where it is located. Try to enter a hotel? The main entrance is not accessible. Press bell and go to side entrance. More time lost. Check into a hotel and seemingly thousands of key strokes are required to be entered into computer. You get to the supposedly accessible room and the bed is so high a transfer is impossible or the bathroom is not remotely accessible. Check out of the hotel and find another place to stay. More time lost. Go out to eat. The restaurant has a single table where they seat all wheelchair users (I call it the cripple table). The fact oodles of tables are empty means nothing. You can wait.
To the above I could add thousands of other needles barriers people with a disability encounter daily. What happens when I point out such gross inequities? I am considered a whiner. Surely I exaggerate! It is always a one time singularly unusual event. Disability is not a tragedy. Disability is not a one off. Disability is part of the human condition. All the technology in the world cannot solve the disability problem because we people with a disability are not a problem. What we people with a disability need is for typical others to get out of our way and stop inventing "disability dongles"--defined by Liz Jackson as "a well intended elegant, yet useless solution to a problem we never knew we had". Link: https://www.vox.com/first-person/2019/4/30/18523006/disabled-wheelchair-access-ramps-stair-climbing I for one am quite content to navigate the world from my empowering wheelchair provided the airlines don't destroy it or have typical others decide access and inclusion of people with a disability is not worth the expense. This is not whining. This is asserting one's civil rights. And if I make others feel uncomfortable then I know I am doing something right.