Wheelchair MIA

This week’s Coming and Going column in the Washington Post, details the sad tale of 72-year old Carlton Duke. Apparently Carlton checked his wheelchair on a United flight in January 2007, only to have it disappear into the friendly skies. United gave Mr. Duke the run-around for seven months, until the Coming and Going columnist stepped in and got them to reimburse him for his obviously lost wheelchair.

I’m not sure how you totally loose a wheelchair, but I guess it explains the unusual collection of assistive devices I found at the Unclaimed Baggage Store, outside of Huntsville. A fellow journalist who was also surveying the collection, turned to me in disbelief and said, “What, were they miraculously healed mid-flight?” My sentiments, exactly. And let’s not even talk about the oxygen canister.

But I digress. How long should you wait before you realize your missing wheelchair is permanently lost (or for sale at the Unclaimed Baggage Store)? According to the Coming and Going columnist, there are no federal standards, but most airlines will accept claims for permanently lost luggage after 10 days. That sounds reasonable to me. Sure it’s great to be an optimist, but hey, if they haven’t found it in seven months, I really don’t hold out much hope.

I think you also have to be pretty proactive in this situation. It’s not like the airline is going to call you up and admit they’ll probably never locate your wheelchair and advise you to fill out a claim form. You have to initiate the process. And don’t wait too long. Accept the fact that it’s lost, file a claim and get a new wheelchair.

Additionally it’s important to remember that the airline’s liability limit on a lost assistive device is the purchase price of the assistive device. So if your wheelchair is old and prices have gone up, you’ll be responsible for the difference between the original purchase price and the replacement cost. If this amount is substantial, you might want to look in to getting some additional insurance.

It pays to be prepared. And if you think I’m being overly cautious, then check out the Unclaimed Baggage Store for yourself some time. And when you do, remember, that stuff came from somewhere — most likely someone’s closet!.