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Air travel + broken mobility devices – a constant fear of people with disabilities

Wheelchair prepare for disability passenger at Airport Airline Check in counter

Any person who uses a wheelchair fears air travel -not because of the flying- their fear is of their wheelchair being broken during the flight. 

This is what Bri Scalesse alleged happened to her friend’s wheelchair and they lay the blame square on the shoulders of Delta Airlines.

Scalesse posted a video on May 22, which has since gone viral, documenting her friend Gabrielle deFiebre’s reaction to finding that airline staff had broken the wheels of her chair.

“Today my heart broke watching my best friend sob because Delta broke her wheels,” read the accompanying text. The following clip showed deFiebre being lifted into a replacement chair by staff.

“People in wheelchairs live in constant fear of airlines breaking our wheelchairs because it happens so often,” read the text. “I am so tired of watching my community suffer.”

Power-assist wheelchairs, like the ones used by deFiebre, are extremely expensive and are often customized to specifically suit the needs of the user.

The video, which has been viewed over 2 million times in just four days, has helped raise awareness of the challenges faced by people who use wheelchairs and air travel. According to the US Department of Transformation’s Monthly Air Travel Consumer Report, 310 wheelchairs and scooters were damaged by airlines in the month of March 2021 alone.

Scalesse shared an update video with deFiebre to her TikTok account on May 24, stating that Delta has agreed to pay for replacing the wheels. Although this is wonderful news, deFiebre said she has been forced to find temporary wheels while on her trip, and will need to do the same when she returns home.

“It was obviously devastating to get off the plane and see that my wheels had been completely destroyed. It happens all the time to people and it shouldn’t be something that happens. Delta says they will cover the costs of the wheel replacement. While we’re in Phoenix I was able to, through our amazing community, find someone who had an extra set of the exact same wheels and I’ve been able to use that while we’re here,” explained deFiebre in the video.

“But when I get home, I will not have the wheels that I use to get around, so hoping that they get replaced soon. But again, this shouldn’t happen to anyone in our community ever. It’s unacceptable,” she added.

A spokesperson for Delta Airlines told Newsweek, “We’re so sorry that her wheelchair was damaged and have been in touch with her directly to make this right, including support to make repairs to her device. We know our customers with disabilities rely on Delta for their travel needs, and we fell short here. We’re conducting a full investigation of what happened, because we must be better.”

After the video was shared on Twitter, the International Air Transport Association replied with an apology and promised improvement. “We are sorry to see this situation. Mobility aids like these are so crucial for the mobility of these individuals. As an industry, we need to do better on this as everyone deserves access to safe and dignified travel.

“We are engaging the accessibility and aviation communities to better this situation for travelers with wheelchairs. The handling of mobility aids is a key area we are addressing for improvement and there will be more news to come on this.”

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