UA Allegedly Destroys $42K Wheelchair

Old Jul 11, 17, 12:11 pm
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UA Allegedly Destroys $42K Wheelchair

Did a quick search, didn't find any prior postings on the topic.

It just doesn't stop ...

UA Allegedly Destroys $42K Wheelchair
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Old Jul 11, 17, 12:20 pm
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Wow, 550 lbs?!? Not much meat to the story, even from the linked article. Sad story on the surface, as it looks like the loaner was a manual chair
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Old Jul 11, 17, 12:24 pm
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I'm kind of amazed they'd even accept a quarter-ton checked item worth 5 figures. Maybe they have to for legal reasons?
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Old Jul 11, 17, 12:29 pm
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Some more details in this Daily Mail article - suggests that UA furnished an electronic loaner which was allegedly ill-fitting and broke down while the traveler was in NYC.

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/arti...heelchair.html
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Old Jul 11, 17, 12:39 pm
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Unfortunate, but hardly nefarious. Sounds like they are doing what they can to make it right. No allegations in the news article about mistreatment by staff & customer service personnel.

Last edited by FlyngSvyr; Jul 11, 17 at 1:00 pm Reason: Discuss the issues, not the poster(s)
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Old Jul 11, 17, 12:45 pm
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I assume airlines are required to accept wheelchairs under the airline-equivalent of ADA.

How would a large, heavy, irregular shape object with likely several fragile parts (joystick?) be packed into the cargo hold? Stored in a luggage container with a ton of padding?

Who is responsible for packing it?

Any concerns about presumably large batteries of unknown quality and robustness?
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Old Jul 11, 17, 12:58 pm
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My BIL is in a motorized wheelchair, and is a quadriplegic. He not only travels in that chair, but also must bring other items which are checked that he needs at his destination.

DELTA lost all those other items, but, thankfully, not the wheelchair. They were never found. That was the last time he flew any airline.

This can happen with anything on any airline. I'm not a UA apologist by any stretch of the imagination, but it happened to someone in my family as well. No, it didn't get any press.
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Old Jul 11, 17, 1:09 pm
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Originally Posted by Mary2e View Post
My BIL is in a motorized wheelchair, and is a quadriplegic. He not only travels in that chair, but also must bring other items which are checked that he needs at his destination.

DELTA lost all those other items, but, thankfully, not the wheelchair. They were never found. That was the last time he flew any airline.

This can happen with anything on any airline. I'm not a UA apologist by any stretch of the imagination, but it happened to someone in my family as well. No, it didn't get any press.
I travel with someone who uses a power wheelchair like the one in the article regularly, and we almost always fly UA. While we've never had a breakage like this, we have had wheelchairs being damaged personally (both manual and powered) and we know people who've had wheelchairs destroyed by UA in the article. The problem seems to be that the baggage people don't understand how to handle the chairs, nor how to tie them down.

Most power chairs are too tall vertically to fit in a hold (esp on thinner mainline routes with an A319/320), I have to lean the set back down. However, the baggage agents insist on trying -- and failing -- to put it vertical. I put it in manual mode to push (attempting to drive it is difficult), and sometimes they refuse to try to push it. Most chairs have tie-down points; however the baggage agents don't seem to use these, instead opting to strap it down across the seat. Not only does this not secure the chair properly, it can damage various components such as the console.

They also don't appear to have the equipment to lift them, so they try to put lift if manually on to the conveyor. Usually it requires 5 people to lift one, and I know of at least one case where the chair fell off the conveyor and broke in half (the chair was about $40k in value, and UA did not repair it).

I don't think it's malicious, as most baggage people I've spoken to seem to be decent and hard working. They just don't have the training or the equipment they need in an environment with tight time constraints and incentives to cut corners.

(Our worst experience was BA losing a manual chair at SFO; they gave us a loaner when we reached our destination and eventually paid for a new one. Luckily that chair was under the compensation limit, just!)

Originally Posted by notquiteaff View Post
I assume airlines are required to accept wheelchairs under the airline-equivalent of ADA.

How would a large, heavy, irregular shape object with likely several fragile parts (joystick?) be packed into the cargo hold? Stored in a luggage container with a ton of padding?

Who is responsible for packing it?

Any concerns about presumably large batteries of unknown quality and robustness?
They are required to carry, yes. The US has some of the strongest protections for disabled customers in my experience (out of UK, Ireland, Netherlands, Germany and Spain).

Wheelchairs are usually gate checked, the gate agent usually asks the weight of the chair and the battery type. Older chairs have wet/spillable batteries that need to be removed and stored in a special container (IIRC), but newer ones have dry-cell batteries that are OK. Most chairs like the one in the article will not have batteries that can be removed without disassembling the chair anyway.

Last edited by WineCountryUA; Jul 11, 17 at 1:17 pm Reason: merging consecutive posts by same member
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Old Jul 11, 17, 1:33 pm
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Bags get damaged, and I know odd items like this are the most likely to be damaged. As others suggest the baggage people don't know how to handle them, and so I don't think this is one to bash United over.

That said.... after Dao, and a string of other stories (punching out a 72 year old at IAH and leaving him laying on the floor; etc) basically anything negative about United is now news.

Sort of rough justice for running such a crappy anti-customer airline.
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Old Jul 11, 17, 1:36 pm
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Originally Posted by spin88 View Post
Bags get damaged, and I know odd items like this are the most likely to be damaged. As others suggest the baggage people don't know how to handle them, and so I don't think this is one to bash United over.

That said.... after Dao, and a string of other stories (punching out a 72 year old at IAH and leaving him laying on the floor; etc) basically anything negative about United is now news.

Sort of rough justice for running such a crappy anti-customer airline.
In the face of bad PR, it is difficult to be perceived objectively.
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Old Jul 11, 17, 1:47 pm
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Originally Posted by knit-in View Post
In the face of bad PR, it is difficult to be perceived objectively.
+1

United is in the midst of a classic PR/social media snowball effect. This incident is terrible for the young man and I cannot imagine how difficult it must be to be in a foreign country without your own wheelchair. I hope he and United are able to quickly come to an acceptable resolution.
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Old Jul 11, 17, 1:49 pm
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Originally Posted by spin88 View Post
Bags get damaged, and I know odd items like this are the most likely to be damaged. As others suggest the baggage people don't know how to handle them, and so I don't think this is one to bash United over.
if they are not trained to safely and securely load and transport such items, they should not do it.

United is apparently required to transport such items.

So United should train their employees/contractors appropriately.
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Old Jul 11, 17, 1:51 pm
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Originally Posted by spin88 View Post
Bags get damaged, and I know odd items like this are the most likely to be damaged. As others suggest the baggage people don't know how to handle them, and so I don't think this is one to bash United over.
This. Surely the passenger who was so willing to allow people known to be rough with checked items to handle his $42k item has it covered under some insurance.

Time to move along... Nothing to see here.
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Old Jul 11, 17, 1:55 pm
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Originally Posted by notquiteaff View Post
if they are not trained to safely and securely load such items, they should not do it.

United is apparently required to transport such items.

So United should train their employees/contractors appropriately.
Yes, they should. We aren't talking about a bag or something here where it's inconvenient if it's lost. A disabled person not having their wheelchair is like taking a person's legs and independence away. Also, in many cases, the wheelchairs are custom fitted so a loaner won't work. It's a case of dignity and health.

There are many delays related to getting a wheelchair on-board too. If they had suitable equipment and training, those delays would go away. A better experience for all involved. Disabled PAX don't need to worry about their chairs being destroyed (I usually look out the window to see how it's being handled), other PAX not delayed when baggage agents don't know how to load a chair, the airline not needing to pay for replacement or repairs.
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Old Jul 11, 17, 3:04 pm
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Originally Posted by kb9522 View Post
This. Surely the passenger who was so willing to allow people known to be rough with checked items to handle his $42k item has it covered under some insurance.

Time to move along... Nothing to see here.
The issue isn't who will pay for the damage - UA has accepted that responsibility. Discussions of insurance are irrelevant in this thread.

The issue is that UA loaned him a crappy wheelchair that broke down and then loaned him a manual wheelchair after their first cheap loaner broke down.

Because he lacks his custom-fitted power chair, his once-in-a-lifetime trip is impaired. He and his friends might say "ruined," but I think that's an overstatement.

UA's failures here include failing to properly train its employees so that they don't damage $42k custom wheelchairs and then failing to loan him an appropriate functional temporary replacement chair. If UA waived enough money around, it could procure an appropriate loaner. Apparently he's not important enough to warrant "whatever it takes" kinda spending. Not surprising from the airline that brought us "broken cashews to save a dime."

I've always assumed that UA employees treat customer stuff with due care, but this incident (and many others) calls that assumption into question.

On top of that, if the baggage handlers can't be trusted to treat customer stuff with due care, then I wonder whether they treat UA's stuff (like $100 million aircraft) with appropriate due care. If you can't competently handle an empty wheelchair and transport it from Paris to Newark without inflicting serious damage, then what unreported damage to UA's planes and other equipment is occurring?

Why does this matter? A couple years back, an airline had an employee or contractor drive a vehicle into a plane and damage it and did not report the incident. Aircraft airworthiness is called into question if damage occurs and is not inspected.
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