American Airlines is making headlines again over its treatment of disabled passengers after two baggage handlers were filmed sliding a wheelchair down a luggage chute with such force that the mobility device crashed into a metal barrier, flipped over and slammed onto the tarmac.
The incident was filmed by TikTok user ‘Haez93’ who caught the baggage handlers in the act at the Miami International Airport as she waited to board a flight from the comfort of the terminal.
The now viral TikTok video shows the baggage handlers ‘mishandling’ one manual wheelchair, although Haez says she only started to film what was going on after two other wheelchairs were treated in the same way, prompting the baggage handlers to “laugh” at what they had done.
Commentators have reacted in horror to the video, and some who have worked for other airlines have pointed out that sliding a wheelchair down a luggage chute is strictly against policy.
Many wheelchairs are custom-built for their owners, and users often describe their mobility device as an extension of their body.
A damaged wheelchair can take weeks or even months to repair, and temporary loan devices can not only be uncomfortable but also cause injury.
Earlier this year, the US Department of Transportation reported a dramatic increase in the number of disability-related air travel complaints, with 356 complaints filed in the first two months of 2023 – a 57% increase in the number of complaints the department received in the same period in 2022.
In fact, the DOT continues to be so inundated with complaints that it hasn’t been able to release accurate figures on how many air travel complaints it is dealing with since March 2023.
Last month, the department said it was reviewing how best to report and investigate consumer complaints as there was no let-up in the number of complaints returning to pre-pandemic levels.
In August 2023, American Airlines mishandled 226 wheelchairs and scooters, according to data supplied by the DOT. Compared to the total number of wheelchairs that were handled in the same month, only both Spirit and Frontier Airlines performed worse than American Airlines.
In a statement, a spokesperson for American Airlines said the carrier was reviewing the video and would be taking ‘necessary steps’.
“We recognize how important it is to support the independence of customers with disabilities by ensuring the proper care of mobility devices throughout their journey with us,” the airline told us.
“This visual is deeply concerning and we are gathering more details so that we can address them with our team. We will continue to work hard to improve our handling of assistive devices across our network.”
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.