American Airlines Baggage Handlers Laughed, Filmed Playing ‘Toss The Wheelchair’

American Airlines is under scrutiny after baggage handlers in Miami played ‘toss the wheelchair’ with not one or even two passengers’ mobility devices but at least three, according to a passenger inside the terminal filming the malfeasance.

In the video, baggage handlers can be seen sliding a wheelchair down a luggage chute hard enough to crash it and flip it over. The passenger taking video was prompted to start filming after this had happened to the second wheelchair and after they were seen ‘laughing’ over it.

For many wheelchair-reliant passengers, mobility devices are an extension of their body, and may even be custom-built for their specific needs. Lower-quality loaned wheelchairs are an uncomfortable temporary substitute, and wheelchairs can take months to repair. Wheelchairs are mishandled two and a half times as often as checked bags (though in fairness, American mishandles checked bags far more than industry average).

It’s not easy to handle heavy wheelchairs correctly, which suggests that while these ramp agents are clearly to blame, gates aren’t well set up to support them either.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. Can’t wait to hear half the board talk about how important safety is to the airlines. No need to be safe after someone gets off the plane.

  2. Sigh. Yup, this is where we are as a society. And there are people who will try to justify this behavior.

  3. I spent a year and a half in a wheelchair due to a spinal injury. I’ve had and have elderly (80+) parents who can only get around in a wheelchair. You break someone’s wheelchair and you make them immobile and helpless until they get a new one.

    Once may be an accident. But twice is at best reckless disregard. Fire them.

  4. DOT data shows that AA has one of the worst baggage handling rates as well as wheelchair and scooter rates in the industry.
    Wheelchairs simply should not be sent down jetway chutes.

  5. AA and other airlines need to fix this issue. No one’s belonging should be treated this way. Much less a mobility device.

  6. A relatively simple fix would be to get a large piece of foam and place it in front of the stop at the end of the chute before a wheelchair comes down. It would wear and have to get replaced eventually but it should stop wheelchairs from getting damaged. This problem was not created by the workers. It exists due to management not implementing a better system. Managers should be fired and a better system implemented.

  7. Wow. Talk about insensitive and abhorrent behavior. Luggage shouldn’t be treated that way. Let alone an essential medical device. Hope they are fired.

  8. Quick, someone call Pete Buttigieg. And the DOJ (violation of the ADA). Seriously, some heavy hands have to come down hard on AA, and fast.

  9. I can tell you this is just laziness at it’s worst. In the airlines defense (AA), that slide is made for suitcases only and their internal rules clearly state that mobility devices are required to be walked down the stairs, not “slid” down the slide. Same with strollers, they easily break when a bag comes barreling down the slide and runs into them if they are sitting at the bottom. This is an often ignored rule because many rampers and agents do not want to walk up and down the stairs.

    This isn’t a bad airline or policy, this is another example of a crappy employee caught on camera, every major company has them.

  10. We have an upcoming trip on AA but not at this airport. I hope my son’s wheelchair is not treated this way. It is his legs.

  11. Rampers know that gravity is your friend when you must quickly stow away 20 heavy wheelchairs from the jet bridge to the cargo hold.

  12. I doubt they can haul heavy wheelchairs down those stairs. They’re pretty big and awkward things. Thus I would put most of the blame on the airlines for giving them inadequate tools for the job.

    A piece of foam has been mentioned–I don’t think it would be a viable answer because it would get rapidly torn up. Rather, instead of that slide going straight and hitting a stop the slide should continue, bending back up. Let friction + gravity stop it.

    However, a trip down that slide is going to scrape things up. Anything that travels without packing should not be permitted on the slide, period.

  13. Some gates have close access to an elevator, which are used for wheelchairs and strollers.
    Carrying a wheelchair down jet bridge stairs is unsafe, however, can and has been done, usually two ground staff.
    I’ve done it while working the ramp.
    I blame the workers and the U.S. society of disrespectful people who do not care about anything but themselves.

  14. AndyS.
    I can think of some other nations more deserving of the moniker ‘sociopath’. What’s your REAL gripe?

  15. Wheelchairs are “legs” for users. They often cost thousands of dollars and although awkward, they typically weight 1/2 of a 50 pound suitcase. Every part is critical to use. One airline bashed my husband’s. The tire rim was nicked creating a metal gouge that cut on his hand every time he grabbed the wheel. They repaired it but it took some time.

  16. I have been in the industry for 20 years. I would literally lose my you know what if I witnessed this. In fact, I would snatch the badge right off the employees and escort them to the terminal. As difficult as it is to carry these down the stairs, that is what I do.

  17. As SOBE ER DOC says, “someone will make excuses, for them,” like @jns and @Loren did.
    If AA has the worse baggage handling, the step option is not the issue.
    Miami has degraded into a shameful airport (and city) for decades so not surprising this behavior is more abhorrent.
    They should be fired after having to pay for damages.

  18. I witnessed this happening to my wheelchair at YYZ with CA. What people don’t realize is that they also do it to all the child car seats. I watched in horror as my wheelchair was tossed onto one of these car seats. Child car seats that double as carriers are only made for one impact. I wonder how many small children are using these unsafe seats and their parents have no idea. The whole slide idea is idiotic. If you wonder why so many wheelchairs get damaged, just look at the language all the airlines use. When Sunwing demolished my chair last year, they kept calling it baggage. Over 22% of wheelchairs get damaged. My travel wheelchair cost Sunwing twice my trip to replace. Had it been my custom wheelchair it would have been ten times that. I am sure that the cost will be passed on to everyone.

  19. @Lee Sanyos:
    > As SOBE ER DOC says, “someone will make excuses, for them,” like @jns and @Loren did.

    We aren’t making excuses–that conduct is completely unacceptable. However, we recognize that it’s a system problem. You don’t solve this by firing the people involved, you solve this by providing a viable means of handling them gently. So long as they have no good answer they’re going to use a bad answer. You can’t simply dictate that they carry such stuff down the stairs.

  20. My mom’s motorized chair weighed almost 300 lbs. It could not have been carried down stairs even if both those handlers tried their best. This is definitely a bigger problem than the handlers and it’s one the airlines have chosen to ignore for decades.

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