United Airlines has promised a slew of improvements for wheelchair users following a lengthy federal investigation into the death of a disabled passenger who sustained injuries sitting in a temporary manual wheelchair after her own customized wheelchair was damaged at the hands of the airline.
Engracia Figueroa died in October 2021 after a short spell in the ICU after an ulcer from sitting in an inappropriate wheelchair became infected. It was claimed that Engracia’s health seriously deteriorated after being forced to sit in a manual wheelchair for five hours when United damaged her bespoke wheelchair.
As part of a deal with the Department of Transportation, United will now add a filter to its online flight booking system, allowing wheelchair users to filter out flights where the aircraft might not be able to safely accommodate their wheelchair in the cargo hold, which could then lead to their wheelchair being seriously damaged.
In cases where disabled passengers have used the filter but have then been presented with more expensive flight options, United has also committed to refunding the fare difference.
Addressing specific issues brought up by Engracia’s case, United is also starting a pilot program which will ‘explore’ whether the airline can obtain special medical wheelchairs or other devices to safely accommodate disabled passengers when they are forced to wait for a loaner chair because their own wheelchair has been damaged.
United also says it will work harder to ensure the timely delivery of loaner wheelchairs and seek feedback from all passengers whose wheelchair has been transported in the cargo hold.
In a statement, the DOT said it will “review United’s performance under this agreement and will act if any portion of the agreement has been violated.”
“Everyone ought to be able to travel safely and with dignity, and I’m glad that United is taking steps to improve their service for passengers who use wheelchairs,” commented Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg.
“For our part, we at USDOT will continue working to make air travel safer and more accessible for people with disabilities, and for the millions of Americans who step on a plane every day.”
Last month, United agreed to a $30 million settlement in a lawsuit brought by the family of a quadriplegic passenger who was left in a permanent coma following a deplaning accident on February 8, 2019.
The family of Nathaniel Foster Jr. sued United Airlines after he went into cardiac arrest as ground staff attempted to move him off a United Express plane at Monroe Airport in Louisiana, where they were visiting to attend a family funeral.
The settlement was reached after a jury trial had already begun earlier this month. In a statement, United Airlines told Reuters that it was “pleased” the matter had been settled
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.