Delta Wheelchair Passenger Left Alone On Jetway, Then At Gate, And No One Cares

A disabled woman flew from Atlanta to Phoenix to spend Christmas with her daughter, but when she got in a wheelchair on the jetbridge in Phoenix after arriving, she was just left there. About 20 minutes later the last crewmember off the aircraft pushed her up to the gate finally, and left here there. Where she waited, and waited. And since it was the last flight of the night there, employees – who saw her there – just turned out the lights and left.

  • There’s a shortage of workers. One area that’s manifested itself is in lack of workers with the low-paying contractors who push wheelchairs in airports, though low pay is often supplemented by tips that can total far more than wages.

  • But that’s not all that happened here. No one at Delta Air Lines, seeing a woman left behind in a wheelchair, seemed to care. I’ve heard plenty of stories of flight attendants pushing wheelchairs out of compassion for passengers, but here everyone at Delta and in the airport just said to themselves, not my problem.

The passenger “was abandoned in the dark in her wheelchair” after landing. Her daughter was waiting at baggage claim for her. The woman begged her daughter to come get her from the gate but without a ticket she couldn’t clear security to do so.

She landed around 11 p.m., and was helped off the plane and into a wheelchair, as expected. “She said, ‘You just sit here and someone will get you,'” said James.

But James says she spent 20 minutes sitting at the end of the jetway by herself. …until the last flight attendants had finished cleaning it. They then pushed her up to the gate, where she apparently had to wait even longer. But then, she says, the gate agent left at the end of her shift.

“And turned the light off, you know, and I’m like, ‘Why you putting me in the dark?'” James said. “And nobody else was there,” said Solomon. “She’s sitting there alone in the terminal.” …”So many workers there and everyone just dismissed her sitting there in the wheelchair,” she said. “You should say, ‘There’s no more flights here, we’re gonna go ahead and close this terminal, can I help you with something?'”

Someone did shoe up to push her wheelchair 40 minutes after arrival.

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. Wait. If she waited at the gate for 20 minutes, then wasn’t pushed to baggage claim until 40 minutes after the plane landed, then doesn’t that mean she waited only 20 minutes until an employee pushed her to baggage claim?

    Not saying that’s acceptable either, but it sounds like she didn’t wait “in the dark” for 40 whole minutes.

  2. The same thing happened to me in Atlanta on December 22, 2021. I had a stroke in October so it is very hard for me to even speak so it was doubly hard to get someone to help me

  3. Happened to me in Atlanta!

    The pushers are not Delta employees, nor is the airline responsible.. Their only responsibility is calling for the pusher. I was left in an empty terminal after departing an International flight.

    It wasn’t until I tweeted my dilemma to Delta’s Twitter site that a pusher showed up.

  4. This story sounds far fetched. Could it be that someone REALLY WAS on the way and they were super backed up and she just didn’t like that she had to wait? That’s what the contractors are for. Can you imagine if a flight attendant pushed her and hurt their back, or the passenger, then they would punish the flight attendant. I say just blame it on COVID and Biden.

  5. The problem is idiot kids letting elderly parents travel alone and expecting airlines to be their long term care specialists for 200$ round trip, Im sick of disoriented old people wandering around totally
    lost! take care of your old people!!’ The daughter was scared!!! lololoo, please! hysterical

  6. Jorge, wheelchair service was one of my many duties when I was an airline supervisor. This was back in the day when service was much better and carriers performed wheelchair service with their own employees.

    Pushing a wheelchair isn’t all that hard. The question is whether the carriers or service in question require you to help move totally disabled passengers from their seat to the wheelchair or out of it at the destination carrier. That can be really hard on your back. Ask me how I know…

    If you decide to apply, I strongly suggest you ask about that.

  7. We are over worked under payed and disrespected by all including Delta ..We are not pushers we are customer care agents. Because the wheelchair is used by anyone who doesn’t want to walk..besides those disabled people get left behind.
    Poor management and greed is what runs this operation. Wish we all would go on strike.
    People don’t tip so yes its just low wages.Imagine pushing for the Worlds busiest Airport and people in other cities making more than you. Average 15 chairs per flight. Either we need to start having paperwork for wheelchair access increase pay or make tipping a priority. Oh and family members that stand around watching while others have no one …Shame on you.

  8. That is a horrible story and I know as a Wheelchair Attendant i happens. But it is a low paying physical job that all know is necessary for disable passengers to travel. But wheelchair attendants are disrespected by Delta employees and passengers alike. There aren’t people that can walk and they take attendants away from those who really can’t walk. There are elderly passengers that are not cognizant and shouldn’t travel alone in chairs with a note! That is not the job of attendants to care for someone disoriented. Family members get off plane and leave family members in chairs? There is a worker shortage and everyone knows that, we all have to do better for wheelchair passengers.

  9. It happened to me on December 28th I took flight from Florida to N Carolina Delta airlines was left in a wheelchair for hours with wheelchair locked so I couldn’t even move it I will never use Delta again I have never been treated so bad I’m completely disabled

  10. For Jack Benoit and any other ignorant and stupid response: you make you take care of your old parents. I utilize the wheelchair service and regardless of your ignorant thought process, these people apply for jobs and the concept behind getting a job is you work! If you do your job well you get rewarded, and in this situation, you get tips. The problem here is understand the requirements of the job you are applying for—then judge yourself accordingly. When you don’t prioritize education, this is what happens. Jack bebout your ignorance is staggering. Everyone who utilizes the wheelchair services is old in fact very few people are old, most people have some sort of disability and require that service. Think before you display your ignorance and that goes for any other idiot making negative comments. This woman should file formal complaints!

  11. Well first of all, terminal 3 in Phoenix has no “lights” to turn off. So leaving someone in the dark is far-fetched for sure. Someone is being a bit dramatic, not sure if it’s the passenger or the writer.

  12. Take time to day digest Ayanna Sequre’s response for it speaks volume. Disrespect from Delta employees seems to be the norm when it comes to communicating with those who assist in the wheelchair services area. Example; “Pusher” “pushing wheelchairs can’t be that hard” (A nice way of being derogatory towards another group of people)! Little do delta employees realize there are a number of wheelchair associates who are educators, retired business managers and even a clinical scientist. It takes all of us for the airline traveling process to be effect so stop trying to find words that degrade other and circulate words that uplift and show KINDNESS!!!!

  13. @Ayanna: Cry me a river. There are NOT an average of 15 wheelchairs per flight.
    I think you should stop looking for new ways to be miserable

  14. This has happened to me several times, different airlines, but never Delta! Fortunately, it happened when I was in my early 60’s, but before cell phones. Once I got my electric mobility scooter, I used it during travel! It eliminated a lot of problems, including the $15.00 tip, and my kids & I agreed, baggage claim for pickup! Now that I’m almost 80, I still use this method, because it still works. However, perhaps Delta has changed significantly, because I was told by a flight attendant and the Captain of the plane, the last person at the gate was *never* leave the area while a handicapped passenger was not yet on their way! (Company policy!). Both the Captain and Attendant wheeled me down to Baggage claim! Can’t get better service than that!!!

  15. I tore my calf muscle about 3 years ago and could not (and was told not to) walk. Wheelchair on a flight change in ATL on my way home to CLT. The exact same thing happened to me and an elderly lady also in a wheelchair. We were wheeled off into the gate area and told to wait for someone to fetch us.
    This was the last flight into this terminal that evening as they shut it down for painting. As we were wheeled off, painters were already putting up scaffolding and tarp. No one came. After 45 minutes (I asked the painters to alert someone after about 25 minutes and nobody came) I got up, hobbled to the end of the terminal where the connecters are and alerted a staff member. It took another 15 minutes for one surly “teenager” to show up. Once he realized there were two passengers, both with connections, both going onto a different flight, he radio-ed for help.
    The elderly lady had a later connection than I did, and she urged me to go with the young man. I reluctantly agreed. I hope/assume someone came for her.
    I know the customer service teams are not Delta employees. They are also not the airport’s employees. Making it always someone elses fault if things go wrong.
    As my ticket is with Delta, where I also book wheelchair assistance, I do hold them responsible, and it is a blemish on their reputation, not some anonymous third party.
    (And yes, I am sure that for each horror story here there are many more where everything went fine. My mom traveled for years internationally between Europe and the US and it all went really well).

  16. There would be far fewer instances like this if people would quit abusing this service when they are faking the need for a wheelchair because they are trying to board early to get a good seat by lying about needing a wheelchair. I see fully, healthy people doing this all the time. They are easy to spot in baggage claim, where they miraculously have regained the ability to walk.

  17. Notindulgingyou, your ignorance is showing. It depends on the destination. It also happens at hubs. I’ve personally had to deal with that situation in addition to being short staffed.

  18. I would sue this airline this airline had so many problems of kicking people off for no good reason and must be heard accountable for their actions this airline needs to be shut down and someone needs to put them out of business

  19. When’s the last time you saw an airport with the lights totally out on a specific concourse! Phoenix Sky Harbor I totally doubt that embellishment! It’s a brand new airport!

  20. Well, Big Air, Big Tech, Big Gov, it’s all about money and power. Sooner or later or will all come crashing down, and they know it, but don’t care, just step on, step over everyone to get all you can now. Delta was once a great airline, now just another evil, heartless, money hungry, woke crumbling outfit. Passenger hate them and they know but don’t care.

  21. I have RSD and Degenerative Disc Disease. Both are invisible diseases. In the winter I have to walk with a cane. I don’t know what Delta did or didn’t do, but I know that the worst flight I take is from LAS to ORD. The United Airlines Elite Desk calls for a wheelchair. I’m directed to a bunch of chairs to wait. Check-in starts at 4am and I’m usually the 1st one waiting. The Wheelchairs are run by the airport, not the airline. If I get through Security and to my gate within 20 minutes of the flight. I am not elderly or a faker. I’m unable to walk long distances. I tip well. And while I AM able to handle my suitcase if the wheelchair helper at the other end doesn’t show, it’s not my favorite thing to do. I’ve had more bad experiences than I care to recall. But until the airports get their acts together, I’m on my own.

  22. I agree with Penquin Power that this story seems exaggerated. No one “turns out the lights” in a terminal in a major airport like PHX. And why didn’t her daughter go to the Delta ticket counter and get assistance instead of trying to get through security without some authorization.

  23. This happens to me a lot. I know that Delta contract the attendants to push the wheelchair, but it’s still no excuse.


  24. Why should it be anyone’s job to haul someone’s butt through a busy airport in a wheelchair?
    Push yourself or don’t fly.

  25. The other unknown is how overlooked hard working wheel chair porters are. My son who was raised to always do your best and go beyond held this job for a few years. He held many kudos from customers who wrote directly to Delta about his great level of service. Delta never did anything to show him their gratitude. NOTHING Not even a PIZZA..even after customers would ask them to pass on their gratitude to the employee. In the end my son moved on to a better job with a company that shows appreciation for good workers. Companies should do more to award hard work by dedicated employees…before you know it you have Noone to save you. Stop overlooking Great employees…

  26. It’s not unlikely that the lights _were_ turned off at PHX. I know they’re turned off at SNA at night.

  27. During the past 3 months, I’ve used the wheelchair service many times, including being on the last flight out, and not had a problem. Yes, you do wait sometimes – one attendant may be handling multiple calls for service. Once an attendant pushed two of us at once, and I was the only one who tipped.

  28. If this is a worry, with Southwest at least, you can get some kind of “escort” paperwork that will get you through security and allow you to walk to gate to meet yr passenger. We did it for our daughter who is 10, but if a parent is disoriented or handicapped, it’s worth a try to see if you can get something similar.

    I’ve always done ok with this service, even when flying Spirit. =) However, I expect a 20-minute wait for a free service provided in a busy airport by overworked, underpaid staff. I have seen ppl throw all-out fits when there isn’t an attendant there immediately. Um, maybe next time bring an electric scooter?

  29. Everything this woman said is probly true. I waited where the desk told me to wait in the John Wayne Airport In Santa Anna it took over 45 min for someone to take me to the gate, when I arrived in Atlanta there was no one and no wheeler chair to get me. I had to walk to the next terminal. I pass the wheelchair Station where two employees were working or should I say goofing off, they told me to have a seat wait for someone to come and get me LOL, I ended up walking to the next terminal. When I arrived in Lafayette I hade the same problem. If your wondering why I needed a wheelchair. I’ve got stage four cancer and get out of breath real quick. I was later to all my flights. When we landed I had to go straight to the ER. I’m only 57 and fly alone kids are not responsible for the way their parents are treated. I flew Delta 1st class I expected more help from them.

  30. How on earth is no one commenting on the absurdity, the insanity of yet another aspect of American culture* being messed up by low wages and essentially-compulsory-tipping to make up for adequate compensation and respect???

    * My presumption is that those in airports helping folks in wheelchairs in other developed countries aren’t tip-dependent; please let me know if I’m mistaken. If I am, well, then this is an *international* shame. Bottom line is… FFS, why don’t airlines just charge a buck more a ticket or something to pay for this? Or cities fund this via airport taxes?!

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