Two women who rely on powered wheelchairs for their freedom are suing American Airlines after the carrier first lost and then allegedly damaged their wheelchairs during a trip from Des Moines, Iowa, to Houston, Texas.
Harlee Drury and Heather Reimers, both 29, say they chose to book the flight with American Airlines because the carrier said it would take care of their wheelchairs. Instead, they say “uncaring” airline employees failed to help them.
The two women traveled on the flight with a friend last September, and it involved a short stopover in Dallas where they briefly changed planes.
After dropping off their powered wheelchairs at the check-in desk in Des Moines, the women were reliant on airline employees to transport them in manual wheelchairs and were assured that their own chairs would be waiting for them in arrival in Houston.
After making it to Houston, however, the women discovered that their chairs hadn’t been loaded on the connecting flight and were still in Dallas.
The American Airlines help desk in Houston told the women there was no way for the chairs to be delivered the same day, despite the two cities being a mere three and half hour’s drive apart, the lawsuit claims.
Because the two women couldn’t get to their pre-booked hotel, they ended up in a hotel adjacent to the airport while they waited for their wheelchairs to be delivered on a flight the next day and had to be pushed to the hotel by an airline employee.
During the night, they were confined to their beds apart from when their able-bodied friend helped them to the toilet. An experience that they describe as both “infuriating and humiliating”.
The following morning, they waited for an update from American Airlines, but when it wasn’t forthcoming, they went back to the helpdesk to discover that their wheelchairs had already been delivered but had been damaged in transit.
Harlee’s chair had indentations and scratches, but Heather’s was in an even worse state, with the entire control stick panel broken off, the lawsuit alleges.
Luckily, the women managed to make their chairs usable, but their trip had to be interrupted for a qualified technician to fix the damage.
Harlee and Heather have accused American Airlines of negligence and allege damages that exceed $75,000.
According to Department of Transportation statistics, American Airlines mishandled 174 wheelchairs and scooters in January 2023. The Dallas Fort Worth-Based airline was the eleventh worst airline in the United States for mishandling wheelchairs in January, although Spirit performed worst with 7.19 wheelchairs per 100 mishandled.
Mateusz Maszczynski honed his skills as an international flight attendant at the most prominent airline in the Middle East and has been flying throughout the COVID-19 pandemic for a well-known European airline. Matt is passionate about the aviation industry and has become an expert in passenger experience and human-centric stories. Always keeping an ear close to the ground, Matt's industry insights, analysis and news coverage is frequently relied upon by some of the biggest names in journalism.