US Airlines Are Now Tracking Wheelchairs They Break or Lose

Ed Tobias avatar

by Ed Tobias |

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It’s happened to me, and if you fly with a scooter or a wheelchair, I bet it’s happened to you, too: a busted or missing set of wheels on arrival.


On a flight from Washington, D.C., to Venice, my scooter went to Copenhagen. On a flight from Baltimore to St. Kitts, I was happy to see my scooter appear at the cabin door. But where was the back of its seat? Somehow, on this nonstop flight, it had been ripped off and was still in the cargo hold.

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But now, when an airline busts or loses a wheelchair or scooter the federal government will be watching. Last October I wrote about a law that reauthorized the budget for the Federal Aviation Administration. That law includes a requirement to draft an “Airline Passengers with Disabilities Bill of Rights.” One of the bill’s provisions is an obligation for large U.S. airlines to report the number of wheelchairs and scooters they damage or lose. That requirement took effect in early December. The first reports should be available in February. Hopefully, this will result in greater care when handling our wheels.

It took a senator in a wheelchair to get it done

There’s a story behind this story. It involves Sen. Tammy Duckworth, an Army combat pilot who lost part of her legs when her helicopter was hit by rocket fire in Iraq. Sen. Duckworth uses a wheelchair and she says airlines have damaged two of them. According to an article for Mother Jones, the senator wasn’t happy when it looked as if a government agency was dragging its feet on implementing the wheelchair rule. She said when she asked the Department of Transportation about this “they never really gave me a straight answer, and that was part of my frustration and why I put in the effort.” So, Senator Duckworth pushed her colleagues on the Senate Transportation Committee to get the wheels turning on the reporting requirement. And they did.


Senator Duckworth thinks the numbers, due to be released next month, will surprise most able-bodied people. “I think we’re going to see some pretty dismal numbers,” she says.

I think she’s right. But maybe if they know they’re being watched the airlines will treat our chairs and scooters with a little more care. If nothing else, we’ll know which airlines we want to avoid when we travel.

(You’re invited to visit my personal blog at


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Mary Batte avatar

Mary Batte

This is disgraceful and, your right, had no idea. Thank you so much for bringing this to our attention and what can we do to help.

Gary Timlin avatar

Gary Timlin

I have also experienced the airlines breaking my 4 wheeled walker even when checking it gate to gate. One had the hand brake control broken off & the 2nd had one of the front wheels was broken off. At least both airlines provided me with wheel chair service to local transportation to get to my destination. One provided me with a loaner & ordered a new replacement. The other told me to buy a new one & submit the invoice to them. I am still awaiting for the check.

Ed Tobias avatar

Ed Tobias

Hi Gary,

Thanks for taking the time to share that information. It would be nice to know which airline provided you with a loaner and ordered a new walker for you and which still owes you a check. I might try to avoid the latter.



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