Viral Clip of Airline Passenger’s Wheelchair Falling to Tarmac Will Be Investigated: Buttigieg

BY LAUREN IRWIN – 11/2/2023

A viral video showing baggage handlers at Miami International Airport sending a wheelchair tumbling down to the tarmac prompted a promise from Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg that his department will investigate the incident.

The clip, initially posted to TikTok and reuploaded elsewhere, shows a baggage handler for American Airlines pushing the wheelchair down a baggage chute. It slides down the track, slams into a gate meant to stop suitcases, flips over it and topples to the ground.

“This is totally unacceptable. We will be investigating,” Buttigieg said in a post on X, formerly known as Twitter. “This is exactly why we are taking action to protect passengers who use wheelchairs. Everyone deserves to travel safely and with dignity.”

Buttigieg was responding to a post that earned 7 million views and nearly 50,000 likes that shows an airline employee sending a wheelchair down a ramp, and it topples over to the ground.

The video comes as wheelchair users and accessibility advocates have raised concerns that their equipment is mishandled and broken while traveling.

“Wheelchair users have been trying for ages to raise awareness about their wheelchairs being broken so often when they fly, and the devastating impact this has on them,” Becca Peter said in a post on X. “@AmericanAir baggage handlers decided to give a demonstration of how much they enjoy breaking them.”

Buttigieg’s post links to a page that outlines the Transportation Department’s disability policies. The Disability Policy Priorities were announced and adopted in July 2022 during a celebration of the anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act, the statement said.

The department said it has created four focus areas to be more inclusive of people with disabilities, including “enabling safe and accessible air travel; enabling multimodal accessibility of public transportation facilities, vehicles, and rights-of-way; enabling access to good-paying jobs and business opportunities for people with disabilities and enabling accessibility of electric vehicles and automated vehicles.”

Data from the Government Accountability Office show the number of disability-related complaints made to the Department of Transportation rose from 2020 to 2021. In Nov. 2022 alone, additional data show airlines mishandled 941 wheelchairs.

The Air Carrier Access Act was passed in 1986 and prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability in air travel and requires airlines to accommodate passengers’ needs.

A bill was introduced in February by Sens. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.) and Deb Fischer (R-Neb.) that aims to increase transparency around disability-related complaints for air travel passengers.

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