My wife is a frequent business traveler and uses a manual wheelchair due to a spinal cord injury. She cannot walk at all. In almost 20 years of traveling around the world, we have never run into the situation that occurred yesterday and I am interested in getting some assistance about how to best handle this with AA. Here's the short of what happened:
1. Her flight was from our home in the midwest to ORD to New York (LGA) on AA. Her chair is a manual/sport-style chair which she always gate-checks to be brought back up to the plane at next destination. She did that and received her usual gate-check receipt.
2. When she arrived in ORD, the chair was taken to baggage instead of the gate. AA instructed her to not wait for the chair back from baggage, but to instead be ported to her connecting flight and they would bring her chair to her ORD-LGA flight.
3. She did so and boarded the ORD-LGA flight. When she arrived at LGA, her chair was nowhere to be found. After several hours of searching, AA baggage found it in ORD. (AA missed 2 later flights that they could've put it on to get it to LGA the same evening).
4. Instead of forwarding her chair to LGA, somehow the chair ended up going to LAX.
After many attempts to get some assistance from AA (both by her directly at LGA-baggage and by me on the phone from home), she ended up staying all night in LGA in the airport wheelchair with no mobility because the borrowed airport chair cannot be pushed or maneuvered by her alone. She had no way of leaving the airport because she could not move herself very far in their hospital-style transport chair.
It seems as though AA has simply said, "well, we've given you a wheelchair, the fact that you can't push/maneuver it isn't our problem." All of this occurred because AA did not follow its own rules for handling a gate-checked wheelchair properly (i.e., return it to the gate, not take to baggage).
What would be your recommended course of action here?
(If more details/info needed, I'll pop back in).
Oct 3, 11, 6:49 am
Unfortunately, nothing can make what has happened right. But, there are two things you can and should do: 1) She (not you) should file a complaint with DOT. This will not "get" her anything, but if AA is having issues with handling disability equpt. and there are multiple complaints, they may act against AA. 2) Write a letter to AA which is clear and succinct and contains only the specific relavant facts your wife knows and no supposition. While AA may maintain that it acommodated your wife a well as it could (and perhaps it did as there were no other types of wheel chairs available), as a matter of CS, it ought to compensate her in some fairly major way. Again, not much they can do to unhappen what has happened, but this is one of those situations where AA, at a minimum, should do something really nice for her.
Oct 3, 11, 7:33 pm
Airlines are supposed to have a Complaints Resolution Officer (CRO) who specializes in handling those with disabilities. Did you talk to that person?
Oct 5, 11, 5:15 pm
Thanks for your replies.
DeafFlyer: Good question and an interesting response from AA on this. Yes, I did ask to the speak to the CRO while I was on the phone with a low-level AA customer service rep. First, she told me that "corporate" wasn't available on the weekends and that they wouldn't get back to me until Monday morning. When I read her the portion of the AA.com website that states they have a "Corporate" CRO person available 24/7, she then changed her tune and told me that SHE was that person! I just chuckled and asked to speak to her supervisor. After 15 minutes of hold, the next level of CSR told me the same thing. I then asked to speak to her supervisor and waited another 10 minutes. Finally, after going up the ladder 3 levels, I found a very helpful AA person who at least was willing to call my wife directly at LGA. I waited while he called her cell and then we disconnected after he confirmed he was speaking with her.
Often1: Agreed. She (spouse) is in the process of putting a letter together to AA corporate detailing what happened. When she got back to our "home" airport, the AA personnel were astonished at what had happened, made photocopies of the gate check receipt and confirmed that AA-ORD royally screwed up when they sent the chair to baggage claim instead of up the ramp to the gate.
As a follow-up, her chair found its way back to our home airport after being stuck in ORD overnight with AA, then going on to LGA despite the record locators telling AA-baggage not to do that, and then LGA sent it back to our home airport.
We're trying to sort out what AA should do, so any comments welcome.
Dec 20, 11, 12:11 pm
I'm late to this party but I also have a SCI and travel all the time, and have had this very thing happen multiple times. I'm just going to add my two cent in case someone else has the same problem (or other chair users come across this).
#1: Refuse to get off the plane until your day chair is brought to the gate. Your missing chair then becomes the problem of the FAs and pilots who are infinitely more competent (and on tight timelines) than the 'customer service' hacks I deal with in American airports. As soon as the issue is brought to the attention of the FAs and Pilots, events get put in motion.
#2. If you must get off the plane (after holding everyone up for a suitable length of time) absolutely DO NOT get into an airport wheelchair. The CSA's do not understand the difference between the hulking piece of crap they push little old ladies around in and your titanium day chair that weighs 17 lbs. Stay in the aisle chair at the gate and continue to insist that your chair is returned to the gate. Once you leave the gate area (as I'm sure your wife experienced) you are no one's responsibility. The gate agent stays at the gate, the FAs and pilots continue on their way, and you are left to your own devices. Or, you are left with a CSA who is on the bottom of the food chain as they are assigned to deal with disabled passengers (my experience in American airports anyways).
#3. Insist, insist, insist that your chair is found before leaving the gate - get head office on the phone RIGHT THEN and be vocal about the fact that they have stranded a person with a disability by losing their expensive, custom wheelchair. The quicker you do this, the more likely the chair will be found/ less likely it will be boarded onto another flight. Get as many people involved as possible.
Finding your chair requires one to be a vocal advocate for oneself, but the alternative (the chair never being found) is much worse than 30-60 minutes of coming across as a big pain in the a**. I learned these steps after traveling for paralympic sport and watching women who have been on the road for 20+ years. It's amazing how many "lost" chairs are suddenly found when you get the right people involved.
It's also my worst nightmare to have my chair go missing. I feel for your wife and I'm glad her chair eventually did turn up, even though she had to endure a rough night :(
Dec 20, 11, 1:51 pm
vliegle, welcome to FlyerTalk. All excellent suggestions.
Dec 20, 11, 6:24 pm
All excellent suggestions! And having had my wheelchair left in the jetway, I now make sure to carry copies from the airlines website and the ACAA about placing my manual wheelchair in the cabin closet.
From experience, AA was not responsive after they forgot me on the plane and all of the flight attendants/pilots left. My spouse (who was waiting with my wheelchair on the jetway) heard me yelling for him because the cleaners had finished and were pulling shades and got back onto the plane and transferred me into an aisle chair and with the help of one of the members of the cleaning crew, managed to get me off the plane and into my wheelchair.
We missed our connection (a 90 minute planned one) and the only response from AA was that they were sorry and there was nothing they could do. Oh, and they scolded my spouse for going back on the airplane to get me because once you have left the plane, you aren't allowed to go back on for "security" reasons.
Multiple letters went back and forth and AA denied any responsibility and so we filed with the DOT. It was very, very easy (online form) and we received phone calls for more information (like all of our letters to AA were sent with return receipt needing to be signed and those were the letters AA said they hadn't received) from the person working on the DOT complaint.
Eventually (months later) a very thick letter arrived from the DOT telling me that AA had been fined twice. Once for leaving me on the plane and once for not telling us that we were able to file a complaint with the DOT. We didn't receive anything from AA, but I do have the satisfaction of knowing that their failure to respond appropriately to forgetting me on the plane meant that they were fined around $55,000 for the two incidents (if I remember correctly and I may not). :)
This also took place at ORD and it was an absolute nightmare trying to deal with the missed connection and everyone claiming that they had no responsibility for what happened. Hopefully, your experience with AA will be different than mine was. :)