(NEW YORK) — Two travelers claim United Airlines lost their wheelchairs after taking a flight with the carrier earlier this week.
Karah Behrend and Ryan Major were returning from a wheelchair rugby tournament in Jacksonville, Florida, and both said they checked their wheelchairs just before boarding the plane on Sunday, expecting them to be placed in the cargo area.
When the plane arrived in Houston, Behrend said United employees informed them they could not locate the wheelchairs.
“They had been scanned into the system as placed on the plane, but they never actually were placed on the plane,” Behrend told ABC News.
Behrend said she did not want to move from the plane until her chair was located. She said United workers offered to take her to a hotel, but she refused since she would not be able to get around without her wheelchair. Behrend said a United worker then said the police could come and transport her to a hospital until they figured out what to do.
“I was like, absolutely not, you’re not gonna punish me for something that you did. Like at this point you’re holding me hostage,” Behrend said.
Major told ABC News he waited on the jetway for more than 40 minutes while workers tried to locate his wheelchair.
The athletes were also traveling with their rugby wheelchairs and were able to use them during their connection in Houston, but Behrend said they are not intended for such use.
“I had a three-hour layover and those rugby chairs, if we’re in there for a good amount of time, can cause health issues like autonomic dysreflexia, pressure sores that lead to life-threatening infections,” Behrend said. “And on top of that, I wouldn’t have been able to transfer in or out of that chair independently to go to the bathroom. So, I would have pretty much been reduced to an infant at that point.”
Major said United held his connecting flight to New Orleans for about 40 minutes during the incident.
“When I got to the plane, my seat was all in the back, and I could clearly see that the passengers had frustrating faces,” Major said. “So, it’s humiliating that this whole process has left me embarrassed, humiliated and felt like it’s my fault that they were late.”
Behrend returned home to Phoenix later that day. Both their wheelchairs were not returned until Monday night.
In a statement to ABC News, United said: “Our top priority is to provide a safe and comfortable journey for all our customers, especially those who require additional assistance or the use of a wheelchair. We understand that special items like wheelchairs are essential for customers traveling with them. In this case, we have returned both wheelchairs and apologized to both customers. We continue to work with our airport teams to improve our operations in order to deliver these items to our customers in the timely manner they expect from us.”
Behrend said in the future she’ll be placing smart trackers in her adaptive equipment.
“I’ll be personally tracking it all,” Behrend said.
“The wheelchair is like my legs for getting around, like my independence, and then for them to take my wheelchair, that’s a part of my independence that’s been taken away,” Major said. “And I can’t get around without my chair safely and with and without self-confidence.”
More than one in every 100 wheelchairs and scooters transported in the aircraft cargo compartment of domestic flights is damaged, delayed or lost, according to data from the Department of Transportation (DOT).
Of the more than 530,000 wheelchairs and scooters transported by airlines in 2021, 7,329 were mishandled — up from the 3,464 mishandled the year prior, according to the DOT.
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