Evil Wheelchair Lady

Last updated: November 2015

I recently wrote about a terrible experience flying that resulted in my wheelchair being destroyed by the airline. Another part of this story concerned how I was treated by the airline staff and the lack of sympathy or even professionalism in how they interact with non-able-bodied customers.

Through many negative flying experiences, I have learned that I do not get off the airplane until my personal wheelchair has arrived to the door. The reason is because whenever I have left the plane in a borrowed airline chair under the promise that my personal wheelchair will be delivered, I am either left waiting for longer or my chair is completely missing. This has resulted in missed connections, hunting various corners of airports for my stranded chair, and other shenanigans.

The lesson I have learned, painfully, is that when I am on the plane, the airline must care about finding my wheelchair. They have a motivation to find my chair because they want me removed so that the plane can be turned around for its next flight.

Every time I land from a flight, I wait as everyone else de-boards. Then I wait for my wheelchair to be unpacked from the luggage hold and conveyed to the plane door. People are surprised that a 30 minute wait is usual. I frequently wait longer than that.

On each occasion an airline representative asks if I would like to transfer into a temporary chair. I always politely decline and explain that I need to leave in my own wheelchair. I am not rude, and if pressed I explain that it is the airline’s responsibility to get me my wheelchair (in working order) because that is the service for which I paid.

After a recent flight with my husband, we waited at least 45 minutes and my chair still had not arrived. None of the airline staff had any clue where my chair was and started pressuring me to get off the plane, but I refused. If they didn’t know where my wheelchair was, how would pushing me off into a temporary chair help, except to keep me stranded?

My husband insisted that someone with the airline take him to look for my wheelchair. He eventually found it riding an elevator solo. Someone had put it on and neglected to take it off.

But while my husband was off the plane, he heard the gate agent announcing over the speaker that a disabled woman was delaying the airplane by refusing to get off. When he brought the chair and I was able to de-board, he told me what he heard and I was floored.

There was no responsibility taken for holding my chair hostage or losing it on an elevator. In fact, I was being blamed and berated for requesting my personal property and mode of transportation.

To me, there is a fundamental problem with how airlines are handling (or failing to handle) people who are not able-bodied. Check out this story of a man who had to crawl off an airplane to reach his wheelchair. It feels like it goes beyond ignorance and insensitivity into willful rudeness. It’s gotten to the point that I’m shocked when I have a pleasant interaction with an airline.

There’s a few problems with operating this way. First, we all pay for our tickets. Service should not be any less if I need accessibility accommodations. Second, airlines are under legal obligations to provide accessible service.

I recently visited with a wheelchair repairman and he told me that he services at least 3 wheelchairs a week that have been broken in airline mishaps. That’s one individual, at one company, in one city. I don’t want to guess what that number is nationwide, but let’s just say it’s not good. I also learned that his company and others have offered airlines free training on how to handle wheelchairs, not to mention provide service for people with disabilities. Yet they have not accepted this offer.

As someone living with rheumatoid arthritis, I don’t need additional stress or difficulty using my wheelchair. I work hard and need to travel, not only for work, but vacations and family visits. I should be able to fly without aggravation, without being called a disruptor when I’ve purchased my ticket like everyone else.

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