American Airlines is facing significant criticism from the disability community after a video surfaced online showing an employee mishandling a wheelchair during offloading from a plane at Miami International Airport.
The viral video, initially posted on TikTok on November 19, depicted a wheelchair careening down a ramp from the jet bridge, colliding with a metal barrier, and flipping onto the tarmac.
The individual who recorded the video alleged that they witnessed the same treatment of two wheelchairs prior to beginning recording, accompanied by laughter from the employees involved.
You can see the video below.
Dang, after i saw them do this and laugh with the first two wheelchairs i had to get it on film. That is not what id call “handling with care” for someones mobility device…. #AmericanAirlines #handlewithcare #mobilitydevice #wheelchair
It was also shared to X, formerly Twitter, and swiftly went viral on the platform.
This incident mirrors a larger issue experienced by disabled travelers across air travel. According to a Department of Transportation report, airlines mishandled 871 wheelchairs or scooters in January alone. Shockingly, over 7,000 wheelchairs and mobility devices were damaged or destroyed by U.S. airlines in 2021, with the number rising to over 11,000 in 2022.
Repairing damaged wheelchairs can incur substantial costs ranging from hundreds to tens of thousands of dollars and can cause significant disruptions to disabled individuals' lives.
The footage sparked widespread outrage on social media platforms, especially from the disabled community. Concerns were raised about the safety and proper treatment of mobility aids during air travel.
Responding to the controversy, an American Airlines spokesperson termed the video "deeply concerning" and assured efforts to enhance their handling of assistive devices, emphasizing their commitment to supporting customers' independence and ensuring proper care for mobility aids throughout the journey.
In response to the video, Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg condemned the incident as "unacceptable" and pledged an inquiry by the Department of Transportation, emphasizing the need to protect the safety and dignity of passengers using wheelchairs.
Under the Air Carrier Access Act, U.S. airlines are prohibited from discriminating against passengers on the basis of disability during air travel.
The Transportation Department has also introduced measures to aid disabled passengers, including a bill of rights and recent regulations to enhance accessibility in airplane bathrooms, aiming to alleviate barriers encountered by disabled travelers.