Air Travel Consumer Report on Wheelchair Mishandlings Released


The figures for reported wheelchair mishandling by US airlines are in for the second month, and I have to say I’m unimpressed.

First off although American Airlines and Southwest Airlines have high percentages of wheelchair mishandlings for both December 2018 and January 2019, apparently neither airline is capable of accurately reporting enplanements.

Southwest states that it correctly reported wheelchair mishandlings for both months but did not include the number of manual wheelchairs enplaned in their final figures. It’s further stated in the December 2018 report that the airline will have the ability to capture this number correctly on or after January 15, 2019. This footnote was also included in the January 2019 report.

American Airlines is no better. They also stated that they reported all wheelchair and scooter mishandlings in both reports, but the number of enplaned wheelchairs and scooters may not be correct. The airline indicated they will resolve the problem in a few months.

So what’s the big deal? Well without accurately knowing the number of enplaned wheelchairs and scooters, the statistic for wheelchair mishandlings are flawed.

That said the percentage of mishandled wheelchairs and scooters was reported as 2.05% in December and 2.18% in January in 2019; but again since the enplanement figure is incorrect, who knows if that’s even close to the true figures.

Envoy Air (a subsidiary of American) had the highest percentage of mishandled wheelchairs and scooters both months – 14.68% in December 2018 and 10.07% in January 2019. But  American Airlines also reported that the enplanement figures for that airline may be incorrect.

Let’s just say we have a ways to go.

Assuming the figures are correct for the rest of the airlines, with the exception of American Airlines code-shares ExpressJet and SkyWest, there are some interesting figures in the report.

United Airlines and Alaska Airlines reported about the same percentage of mishandled wheelchairs both months – 1.09% and 1.12% for United, and 1.24% and 1.54% for Alaska. Frontier went from 5.13% in December to 3.24% in January, while JetBlue went form 4.01% in December to 2.47% in January. And then there was Spirit Airlines who went from 2.29% in December to 3.09% in January.

So what does this all mean?

Some folks would say, not much, as these are just the reported incidents. Quite frankly cosmetic damage and minor damage often goes unreported. The big concern for most folks is functionality, and if they can use their assistive device when they get to their destination, they often don’t have the patience or the energy to report superficial damage.

That’s totally understandable.

On the plus side, at least we are seeing these statistics, which is an important step forward. I think they will be more telling a few years from now when we can actually spot some trends.

It’s a good first step, but seriously how hard can it be to keep track of how many wheelchairs and scooters you carry?

Stay tuned!