American Airlines baggage handlers were caught on video mishandling a wheelchair. While I agree that there are systemic issues at play with the handling of wheelchairs and other assistive devices, the blame here falls on the baggage handlers who violated protocol and then laughed about it.
Unacceptable: American Airlines Mishandles Wheelchair
This story has made news across many blogs this morning and we will see it in national headlines later this week…it’s a big deal. Baggage handlers at American Airlines are caught on camera rolling a wheelchair down a chute on the side of the jetbridge that is used to transport (less fragile) luggage from the aircraft level to the ground level.
It only gets worse if you read the caption… pic.twitter.com/szrvd1CBRd
— Becca Peter (@DefectiveBecca) November 20, 2023
The baggage handlers reportedly laughed and the incident was only caught on video because a passenger watched them do this to two wheelchairs before this one.
I Blame The Baggage Handlers
Bad news indeed. One Mile At A Time says, “[A]nger should be directed at airline management for not creating a better system for the safe handling of wheelchairs, rather than the frontline workers, who are just put into a crappy situation.”
Of course the tendency is to blame the ramp workers who are pictured in this video, and who apparently just don’t care that these wheelchairs are someone’s lifeline for getting around.
However, there are systematic problems that go way beyond the frontline workers…Ramp agents are really set up to fail here. Wheelchairs are typically extremely heavy, and jet bridges have narrow staircases. If ramp workers are supposed to safely carry wheelchairs down the stairs, they need to have access to a better system.
I do not agree.
Ben points out that ramp agents are set up to fail, but also cites stats that US airlines mishandled 11,389 wheelchairs or scooters in 2022, representing 1.54% of the items carried. He contrasts this with the 0.64% rate in which checked bags are mishandled, noting it is more than double.
That is a concern. It is a concern, as I have written about before, that the handling of these vulnerable lives often goes to the cheapest outsourced contractor and it is disgusting that airlines have not realized that even one wheelchair damaged is one too many.
But here’s the counterpoint. First, a mishandling rate of 1.54% means that 98.46% of wheelchairs and scooters are not damaged. That’s pretty good…
Second, I don’t think we need to blame greedy airline fat cat executives for workers who are clearly breaking protocol and then laughing about it.
My understanding is that workplace rules dictate that wheelchairs are not to be pushed down the chute because they are fragile. That’s why there are stairs on the side. And the idea that wheelchairs are too heavy did not seem to be a problem for the baggage handler above who effortlessly lifted up the toppled-over wheelchair and flung it onto the baggage cart.
So no, I am not at all sympathetic for these particular workers. Because 98.5% of wheelchairs are not damaged and that means there is a decent system in place already to avoid such damage.
While too early to tell if this will turn into another “United Breaks Guitars” sort of situation, I have very little compassion for the baggage handlers here. Pushing the wheelchairs down the chute, letting them flip over and land on the cement, and then laughing about it is not what they are paid to do. While there should indeed be better ways to handle wheelchairs, let’s not whitewash the culprits who so wantonly disregarded the personal property of the people they are paid to serve.