Customer says American Airlines lost wheelchair, hung them for hours

An American Airlines passenger urged travelers to stay away from the carrier, saying they were stranded for five hours after workers forgot to load their wheelchair.

Xavi Santiago, who uses the pronouns they/they, said they were traveling from Los Angeles to Orlando with a layover in Miami last week. The client described his ensuing ordeal in a video that went viral on TikTok, and has garnered more than 220,000 views.

“In Miami, after a whole quarrel with no one to carry me on the plane, and I had to wait for the plane to finish boarding, they didn’t put my chair on the plane,” Santiago said. .

Upon landing in Orlando, the passenger learned that his wheelchair did not work. Airline employees put Santiago into a manual wheelchair at the airport and promised that the wheelchair would arrive on the next flight from Miami, landing around 9 or 9:30 p.m. The client was also told that he would be given a temporary wheelchair.

But Santiago, whose video was recorded around 11 p.m., none of those promises were kept. They had already waited for more than three hours without a wheelchair or way to leave the airport.

They said, “They gave me nothing but escape.” “Customer service is largely over the phone only and I’ve been on hold a few different times and been told 15 different things.”

In the end, Santiago said in an update to the comment, they finally received their wheelchair at 1am after being stranded for five hours.

A Southwest Airlines passenger was pushed into a wheelchair provided by the airline at the Albuquerque International Sunport in Albuquerque, New Mexico, in February 2019. Xavi Santiago said they were stranded in Orlando for five hours after American Airlines employees forgot to load their wheelchair.
Robert Alexander / contributor / photo archive

“I’m still trying to get some kind of compensation for this nightmarish ordeal, [especially] Considering that I had no choice but to make the return trip with them,” they said. “I couldn’t eat, it was hard to use the bathroom, and my chronic pain flared up so bad after sitting in an ambulatory wheelchair for HOURS.”

US airlines mishandled 7,148 wheelchairs in 2021, just under 20 a day, according to the Department of Transportation’s Air Travel Consumer Report. “Poorly handled” wheelchairs include those that have been broken, damaged, lost and delayed.

These complications are more than an inconvenience to many disabled people. In 2021, disability activist Ingracia Figueroa died after injuries sustained when United Airlines destroyed her custom wheelchair. Figueroa’s wheelchair, specially designed to support a spinal cord injury and left leg amputation, was critical to keeping her healthy.

Tami Spears, an amputee, sued American Airlines in 2020 after crew members forced her to crawl in the aisle of an airplane to use the bathroom. According to Lee, the hosts directed her to the bathroom to “jump” and “go fast” before insisting on using it with the door open, leaving her humiliated and in pain.

In 2018, the family of 67-year-old Olympia Warsaw, who had Parkinson’s disease and diabetes, said she was left in her wheelchair overnight at Chicago O’Hare International Airport after an American Airlines flight was canceled. Family members were unable to locate her until the next day.

NEWSWEEK I reached out to Santiago and American Airlines for comment.

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