American Airlines Wheelchair Passenger Abandoned To Fend For Herself Overnight In Charlotte

There’s been a huge shortage of people working in airports to help push passenger wheelchairs. That became a crisis on Monday night in Charlotte when weather caused chaos and delays, and one American Airlines passenger in a wheelchair was abandoned – and forced to sleep in the terminal.

The woman couldn’t walk on her own, she “didn’t know where the bathroom was”

Ouida Sloan was left unattended after the wheelchair attendant failed to transport her to a connecting gate.

“What specifically happened was my mother landed in Charlotte — she requires wheelchair assistance from gate to gate because she’s a stroke victim and she gets very confused and turned around because her mental capacity has been diminished,” [the woman’s daughter] said.

That caused her to miss her American Airlines flight to Norfolk.

“When she got off the plane, the person who aided her with the wheelchair pushed her to the top of the ramp where the gate agent was and left her there. She missed her connection and had to spend the night in the Charlotte airport.”

According to American Airlines,

American has reached out to learn more and apologize after learning about Ms. Sloan’s experience while traveling last night. Our mission is to ensure customers of all abilities have a positive travel experience, and in this instance, we fell short. We are working to determine what went wrong and how we can improve our process moving forward.

Sometimes the experience with contractors helping with wheelchairs is just bad, dropping off passengers at the wrong gate or mistreating passengers.

However in this case we know there’s also a shortage of people to do the job. There are a couple of possibilities here, both of which point to a situation that’s temporarily bad for finding workers to help with wheelchairs.

  1. This is a temporary phenomenon driven by pandemic unemployment and Zoom School. Where the average tax-adjusted unemployment wage is $19 an hour, even paying $25 an hour doesn’t lure everyone back – since that’s marginal earnings of just $6 per hour, and it continues to make sense for many to sit out and engage in other activities while they can. Besides the $6 doesn’t cover child care. School re-openings will solve that to some extent come fall. Even in states where pandemic unemployment is already ending it takes time for workers to decide to return and for employer-employee matching to take place. Scaling up doesn’t happen instantly.

  2. There’s a permanent shift in worker preferences and that’s going to require much higher wages to induce people back into the labor market. Wages are sticky upward, and not just downward, so this is going to take some time for adjustments to happen. It will also lead to greater outsourcing and automation to replace American workers where possible. But higher wages will be required to encourage marginal employees to enter the workforce.

Either way it’s a situation likely to work itself out, provided airlines and airports diligently work with and insist on better performance from contractors. But it’s going to be a long, rough summer. Because it’s one thing when Delta is asking employees to volunteer to clean Sky Clubs at their Atlanta hub because contractors can’t find employees. It’s another thing when vulnerable passengers are left overnight to find for themselves.

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 InsideFlyer.com, 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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Comments

  1. Just last week I made a trip to LIT to bring my wheelchair bound Mother back to MIA for hospitalization.
    After waiting 25 mins at LIT for curbside pickup the rest of the journey, that included a DFW connection, went smoothly. (Even counting the 2 1/2 hour delay at DFW).

  2. It’s good to see the Airline owned up and admitted they fell short. The labor shortage will manifest itself in many ways in the months ahead — this is one of them. But it appears that market forces will end up increasing the wages of many at the bottom of the scale, and in my mind this is a good things since government (i.e the GQP) in most instances is unwilling to address minimum wage issues.

  3. I agree the airline is really bad but honestly I think you can’t trust airlines and if your loved one is that sick then it would be nice for a family member to go make the journey and travel with them.

  4. When you consistently outsource things to a contractor you end up with serious problems. And there had to be numerous people for AA and other airport employees that walked by her and probably just ignored her.

    I recall years ago landing in NY (I think it was LaGuardia but maybe JFK) and someone was asking about a wheelchair and the FA attendant basically said “This is xxx, good luck getting a wheelchair.”.

    I do think people who have issues should not travel alone, especially on a connecting flight. My GF helped her parents out as they grew older and had more medical issues and any travel involved her or another family member going on the trip with them. She never would have allowed them to go on their own.

    But that doesn’t allow an airline to get away with incompetence. If they provide some service, then they should get it right.

  5. Criminal charges should be filed. Would they also leave a child alone in the airport? Handoff to a family member is when the airline gets released from its responsibility

  6. 1. Wheelchair pushers make shit for money so nobody wants to do it…..I’m sure that lady was going to tip too…lol.
    Right now, Biden pays more so expect low wage jobs to go unfilled for a while.
    2. If your relative is that disabled, then take some responsibility for them and travel with them. You either love them or you don’t.
    3. If something does go wrong, call every media outlet who will listen then extort as much $$$ as you can from the airline.
    4. If that doesn’t work, claim racism. Boom. Paid.

  7. This is really unfortunate. From reading the article, the lady is wheelchair bound and her mental capacity is reduced due to a stroke. It was probably best if airlines treated her as an unaccompanied minor so at the very least she’d get an airport escort in addition to a wheelchair aide.

    I’ve travelled with my grandmother in the past since she is wheelchair bound but I understand that’s not financially possible for other families.

  8. I live in Charlotte, where the unemployment rate stands at 4.7% and is trending downward hard: https://ycharts.com/indicators/charlotte_nc_unemployment_rate#:~:text=Charlotte%2C%20NC%20Unemployment%20Rate%20is,long%20term%20average%20of%205.16%25.

    This is not people riding out their welfare checks, but people finding better employment opportunities at higher wages. Schoolbus drivers are making more – and get a sign on bonus + benefits. Fast food pays more, and offers benefits and a sign on bonus. Good luck competing in a tight labor market.

    I have experienced the same abandonment issue in 2018 at ATL when I had torn my left calf muscle and could not walk. I learned how to appreciate the people that do push wheelchairs around in airports, but I detest the airlines that outsourced the responsibility for their passengers to the absolute lowest paid wage earners possible. Of course they are not going to care.

    I arrived from SEA back to CLT with a change in ATL. I hobbled off the plane on my crutches, being told by the crew there would be a wheelchair in the waiting area. There was not. I told the deplaning Delta crew and they “would ensure to send someone”. This was the last flight into that gate for the evening. I was trying to connect to the last flight to CLT. It was in another terminal building. I could not get there by myself.

    There was another lady in need of a wheelchair with me. After nobody showed up at the wait area, workers starting taping up all windows and gate desks because the terminal was going to be painted overnight. I hobbled to see if I could find anyone but because of the terminal closure all shops were closed. We were deserted, minus the paint crew. I tweeted Delta and called via an emergency phone. Eventually one person showed up – for two wheelchairs, going in a different direction. The old lady let me go when we had ensured that the wheelchair pusher had radio-ed a colleague. My flight was sooner than hers. I hope she made it.

    “If you pay peanuts you get monkeys”

  9. UM. . .DL did that same thing 2 years ago and BTW, once the FULL story came out, they didn’t. I doubt very much we have heard the WHOLE story here.

  10. and one more thing. If she is so frail, why did the family “dump” her into the airlines hands. My Dad is in his late 90’s and can manage pretty well on his own, but I still fly out to bring him to visit and fly back with him.

    Tired of it is always someone else’s problem or fault with the elderly. If she was truely “left” same on AA, but why didn’t the family do more?? Make me wonder . . . you need to be accountable and an advocate for your elderly family members and not just dump them into someone’s hands. Again, two side to this story and lack of caring by both the family and the airlines.

  11. Reducing gate agent staffing to 1 instead of 2 will only exacerbate issues like this.

  12. Flying is a horrible experience. It’s a race to the bottom. Employees are perma-pissed, passengers are perma-pissed, and no one cares about anything or anyone anymore. It’s a window into society, and the view is horrible. Anyone confident America is gonna turn a corner and become respectful? One tip – don’t look to your politicians as healers or role models or leaders.

  13. Just Wow.
    If the lady was this unwell she should not have been flying alone. The family is the ones to point the blame at.

    All airlines use Prospect for wheelchairs. Not just AA. All of them. They are woefully understaffed, it’s been in the news.

    This lady was offered a free hotel but could not navigate to it herself. So who is responsible for that? Is the airlines or Prospect supposed to escort her to an off-site hotel too? Where does it end? And whether or not there are one or two gate agents makes no difference. This woman was mistreated by her own family pawning her off on an airline responsible for thousands of people every day.

    Please, don’t fly AA if you hate them that much. Just shut up about it.

  14. The whine of the week.
    Place a $20 in mom’s hand, she will get a push.

  15. @Luke (mouthpiece for AA)
    As you know, gate agents don’t run wheelchairs. They have contractors for that. For all we know, the old lady said “I’m okay” when asked if she needed help. If she was really that mentally diminished, that’s a good possibility. Are employees supposed to interrogate wheelchair passengers to see if they’re “really” okay. Dont get me wrong, I i hate AA and rarely miss an opportunity to shit all over them. This is a family who apparently loves grandma so much that dumped her off at the airport…… hey, at least it wasn’t the dog track.

  16. I do not believe this can be attributed to COVID. A few years ago at phl I parked my car at A gate and flew out. I returned on a commuter plane after midnight at F gate. As I had broken my leg I asked for assistance and was told that there was no staff to assist after midnight. It took an hour to walk to my car. When I wrote to American I was told to fly American again so they could do better. Nothing has changed.

  17. A woman in that state should not be traveling alone. Shame on the relative that didn’t accompany her

  18. @CHRIS – I don’t know what the hell you’re talking about. Of course the gate agent isn’t responsible for pushing grandma themselves. But if someone in a wheelchair is dumped in the gate area, one would hope that they as agents of the company would inquire into the wellbeing of an errant passenger. Reducing staffing to one gate agent increases their workload and therefore reduces the likelihood that they’ll have the bandwidth to spare to care for a stray passenger. That’s a pretty objective observation, I don’t see how you could possibly argue otherwise. Also unclear who you’re insinuating to be the AA mouthpiece here.

  19. This is very sad but if the woman has reduced mental capacity how could the family let her fly alone? That is even sadder.

  20. You say “Where the average tax-adjusted unemployment wage is $19 an hour…” How are you coming up with this amount? For most people on unemployment and recieving the extra 300, it works out to between $10 to $12 an hour for most states.

  21. Who employees the wheelchair pushers? The airline? The airport? We had a similar experience in CLT over a decade ago. I requested a wheelchair for my husband (prior to departure) – he had major surgery in Baltimore and we needed assistance upon landing in CLT. Waited and waited on the plane for someone to come assist. Walking was challenging for him after surgery due to a catheter and I was also recovering from surgery. We were quite the pair. We finally had to get off the plane and fend for ourselves despite assurances from AA that request had been made; they were apologetic, at least.

  22. People don’t send your elderly alone traveling and it’s not AA its a third party that owns the WC.

  23. These stories are infuriating.

    “she requires wheelchair assistance from gate to gate because she’s a stroke victim and she gets very confused and turned around because her mental capacity has been diminished,” .

    What kind of a moron would send her mother off on an airplane by herself? Blaming someone else is always the sign of a weak or stupid person’s reasoning. Take responsibility, THINK for once.

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