It is heart-breaking to see wheelchairs damaged by airlines, but the baggage handlers are not always to blame
In February 2018 I wrote about what to do if your equipment is damaged while you’re travelling and what your rights are if you need to claim. Throughout the rest of the year I was made aware of various incidents and experiences of people with disabilities whose wheelchairs had been damaged.
There is always a lot of “chatter” on social media – with the blame put squarely on the ground handler and airline involved. This matter, I feel, is often skewed. I believe that, before we point the finger at the airlines and staff, the owner of a wheelchair should be taking sufficient precautions before handing it over at the airport.
After all, if you have any piece of sports equipment like a bicycle or set of golf clubs, you wouldn’t just bring it to the check-in without any form of protective cover. Although carbon fibre is super-light and strong, it can still get damaged. Just watch the crashes in Formula One!
So, as wheelchair users, let’s make sure our mobility aids are well looked after. QASA offers training to ramp handler staff at various airports around the country, and more companies are sending their baggage-handling staff for training.
There is a specific section on the handling of passenger equipment, and the costs of all the various items are detailed to make the staff aware of how expensive and vital these devices are in the daily life of people with disabilities. However, the staff can only work with what you give them.
Once the piece of equipment is on the plane, it could be damaged during the flight if not secured correctly. So here are some off-the-cuff tips to assist you in ensuring that your wheelchair is returned to you in the same state in which you handed it over at the airport:
• Remove all the “bling” or accessories, including haversacks or bags that are not fixed;
• Ensure that your cushion is removed and taken on board;
• Photograph the wheelchair after you have been transferred and before it gets taken away, as proof of its condition; call it self-insurance.
• If you have removable arm rests or clip-on wheels, use cable ties to ensure that they remain in place;
• If you have a controller for a power unit that can be removed, take it off and carry it onto the plane;
• If your wheelchair folds down, attach clear written instructions to assist the handlers at the arrival destination in re-assembling the chair for you;
• Consider including your wheelchair in your household insurance policy.
We encourage users to propose ideas for “carry cases” for wheelchairs, which QASA and various activists can explore with a number of wheelchair manufacturers and airlines. Watch this space for developments!
Our mobility aids are not unbreakable. Many of our wheelchairs are lightweight for our benefit, but then, of course, that also means they are terribly fragile in the hold of an aircraft and during handling. Let’s give everyone the best chance of the least amount of disruption. In the meantime…
Has your wheelchair been damaged during travel?
Please contact QASA at 031 767 0348 so that we can monitor which handlers are commonly involved and the airports where this is happening. We can then intervene and assist with further training and advice.
Mandy Latimore is a consultant in the disability sector in the fields of travel and access. email: firstname.lastname@example.org