American Airlines faced backlash from disabled people online after a video of an employee mishandling a wheelchair being offloaded from a plane in Miami went viral over the weekend.
The video, which was posted to TikTok on Nov. 19, showed a wheelchair shooting down a ramp from the jet bridge, crashing into a metal barrier and then somersaulting onto the tarmac. A worker on the tarmac picked up the wheelchair and put it on a cart.
The person who recorded and posted the video claimed in the caption that the employees had done the same to the previous two wheelchairs loaded off the plane and had laughed about it.
“Dang, after I saw them do this and laugh with the first two wheelchairs, I had to get it on film,” the user wrote in the caption. “This is not what I’d call ‘handling with care’ for someone’s mobility device….”
The video gained thousands of views and likes on TikTok and circulated on X (formerly Twitter), drawing outrage from disabled people who called out American Airlines and shared fears they frequently have about traveling on airplanes with their wheelchairs and mobility aids.
In a statement sent to HuffPost on Tuesday, an American Airlines spokesperson described the video as “deeply concerning” and said the airlines will “continue to work hard to improve our handling of assistive devices across our network.”
“We recognize how important it is to support the independence of customers with disabilities by ensuring the proper care of mobility devices throughout their journey with us,” the statement said. “This visual is deeply concerning and we are gathering more details so that we can address them with our team.”
The video reflects a widespread issue that disabled travelers frequently face with air travel.
According to a report from the Department of Transportation, 871 wheelchairs or scooters were mishandled by U.S. airlines in January alone. Data shows more than 7,000 wheelchairs and other devices were damaged or destroyed by U.S. airlines in 2021, followed by more than 11,000 in 2022, USA Today reported.
Wheelchair repairs can cost hundreds to tens of thousands of dollars and can take several weeks or months to complete, which can force disabled people to put their lives on hold, according to WGBH public radio in Boston.
On X, Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg said that the American Airlines incident shown in the video was “unacceptable” and that the Department of Transportation would conduct an inquiry.
“This is totally unacceptable. We’ll be investigating,” Buttigieg wrote. “This is exactly why we are taking action to protect passengers who use wheelchairs. Everyone deserves to travel safely and with dignity.”
Under the Air Carrier Access Act, which became law in 1986 and was amended in 2000, U.S. airlines are prohibited from discriminating on the basis of disability in air travel. Last year, the Transportation Department created a bill of rights for disabled passengers to help them navigate air travel.
An advisory committee established in 2016 by the Transportation Department has been working to develop regulations and recommendations to make air travel easier and more accessible for disabled passengers.
In July, the department issued a final rule that would make airplane bathrooms more accessible — addressing another barrier faced by many disabled travelers.