Wheelchairs breaking on planes ‘is major problem’ for disabled travellers

Many airlines and airport operators are not taking enough care when it comes to handling mobility equipment and this is leading to wheelchair breakages and expensive repair and replacement costs for disabled people.

That’s according to one BBC reporter who has set out to highlight the multiple experiences she has had where her mobility aids have been damaged during air travel. Most recently, Lucy Webster’s wheelchair was damaged on an EasyJet flight last month.

EasyJet says it is “very rare” for its ground handling companies to damage wheelchairs. When it does happen, they say, they arrange for repairs and a replacement chair. The airline also points out its customer satisfaction amongst passengers with reduced mobility was 84% in 2016.

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Webster believes that airline operators see wheelchairs as robust as they see any other piece of luggage. She says she has seen her own motor “being flung into a trolley of suitcases”, while others have found their powerchairs lying on their sides on conveyor belts.

“Staff often do not know what they are handling – moving specially-positioned backrests and unplugging vital parts of chairs which cannot just be reattached,” Webster says.

“Chairs get lifted and pushed in ways that damage them. My powerchair’s brakes were destroyed when staff pushed it without following instructions to set it to its manual settings.

“All wheelchairs are different, but some basic training in how they usually work would go a long way.”

It can often be difficult and expensive for a user to fix a powerchair one it has been damaged in this way and transporting a broken powerchair involves specific vehicles and effort considering many weight over 100kg.

Webster says that when transporting a powerchair, detachable parts such as head and arms rests, footplates and joysticks should be removed and carried onboard.

“Submit a Special Declaration of Interest before flying, allowing compensation claims above the usual cap to be made,” she says. “Label chairs with instructions on how to move them and which parts cannot be detached. Pack detachable motors in sealed, hard cases.”

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