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.
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.
- 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.
- 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.