This May Be The Most American Airlines ‘Seriously?’ Story Yet

A quadriplegic man who took part in the Boston Marathon was “left bedbound for 19 hours after American Airlines refused to load his $60,000” wheelchair because they prioritized other luggage instead. And when he got it back, the chair was broken.

Matt Wetherbee, who lost his legs in a freak accident while playing basketball in 2016, was flying from Boston with his wife and were on a layover in Charlotte, when he says American Airlines refused to load his wheelchair, citing a lack of room.

…The crew in Charlotte told Matt and his wife of five years, Kaitlyn Kiely, their options were to get off the plane or get on without the chair – which had already been damaged by a flight crew at Logan.

‘I cannot stay overnight here…I don’t have the proper supplies or help…And this is my only way of moving anywhere,’ Wetherbee told the Charlotte grounds crew, who refused to remove other luggage to make room for Matt’s $60,000 chair, which he needs to move.

The man, who has dedicated himself to helping others with spinal cord injuries, shared his story on twitter.

The man was accompanied by his wife, who had pushed him in the wheelchair for the entire 26.2 miles of the Boston Marathon in 2018. She explained in her own social media account of the incident that he “had to be taken off the plane in his shower chair, which he could not stay in for more than an hour.”

He can’t move around without the chair and when he was eventually reunited with it – after being bedridden for 19 hours – it was returned damaged.

American Airlines offered,

What you’ve shared concerns us and doesn’t reflect American’s care for our customers. Our team will look into this and is reaching out to the customer to better understand his experience.

I wonder if the only thing that would make this more egregious is if the passenger victim were a holocaust survivor, too?

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. “… reaching out to the customer to better understand his experience.”

    Tone-deaf, corporate-speak in a nutshell.


  2. @mojo took the words right out of my mouth (or keyboard as the case may be). That is legalese which concedes nothing and shows a lack of any sense of compassion. How many gazillions of dollars of our tax money went to keep this company sputtering along?

  3. Another reason I continue to keep my promise to myself never to fly this third world airtline

  4. Hope they write to the DOT. Each complaint, contained in the body of the letter,use to be a $25,000 fine.

  5. This is beyond, well beyond the realms of acceptable behavior. What kind of morons would treat someone like this.

  6. Seriously, what were they thinking? No one thought “lawsuit” when they did this? In part I suspect it reflects overall low morale among AA employees: They don’t care — about the company or the customers. Time to really clean house.

  7. “I wonder if the only thing that would make this more egregious is if the passenger victim were a holocaust survivor, too?”

    A. Holocaust is capitalized when referring to the event in WWII and lower case when describing a general situation, although the later usage is rarer and rarer. It’s the Holocaust and a holocaust.

    B. As with Nazis, it’s generally best not to compare the Holocaust to anything contemporary – because nothing in contemporary America comes close to Nazis and the Holocaust. Nothing. The closest you could come to anywhere in the world right now would be the Chinese treatment of Uyghurs, and they’re not up to death camps yet, just concentration camps. A guy mistreated in a wheelchair – not even close. Fail. But can’t un-ring that email bell.

  8. After my last experience on American Airlines this is totally expected. I will not fly them again because this represents their customer service values.

  9. CM – lots of drivel. Read what was written versus letting that fart escape your mouth as typed words.

  10. AA should have been allowed to go bankrupt. Why did we give them billions of dollars? Take that money back and let them go under.

  11. It’s a bit complicated with those motorized wheelchairs. The lithium battery must be removed, and brought into the main cabin. They’re also pretty heavy. I’ve seen flights where it takes a couple of hours to get one of those into the hold on a small plane.

  12. Gary–will you keep us updated on this incident? I’d like to know the what American Airlines did to compensate this person.

  13. How does this not go against ADA regulations?

    The sad part is that AA probably compared the cost of delaying the flight vs. the horrible inconvenience they put this family through, the possible bad press that people forget about, and the possible small chance of a slap on the wrist by DOT. AA deserves a good fine that supersedes all savings for not delaying the flight.

  14. @adent — Indeed. It is complicated to load these fancy wheelchairs and, sadly, they are often damaged in transit. Honestly, airlines should not even carry them but you can understand why they can’t do that. I would also note that, when the chairs are damaged, the owners (if they are young) are often livid, which is understandable but also problematic. Not an easy situation, even if, on Gary’s Airline, everything would go perfectly.

  15. This is truly a horrible story. But there are gaps in the story, and I am curious. For years, I travelled the world with teams of disabled athletes. There’s no question that the public is woefully ignorant about disabilities and you certainly expect that airline and hotel people are carefully trained to deal with a person with a disability. But they’re either not trained or they’re not motivated to take good care of the disabled pax. I could tell you stories all day long. People without the use of their legs generally use a manual chair. Power wheelchairs are incredibly delicate, heavy and prone to damage. While the airlines can, and do, damage wheelchairs much too often, power chairs almost always appear at the destination with some damage.

    Let me be clear, I am not judging, I am merely curious about this story. How did Wetherbee’s shower chair get on the airplane? Why would someone bring a shower chair into the cabin?? Why didn’t the airport give him a manual chair to use while he tried to get AA to do things right? If he couldn’t handle a manual chair with his hands, his wife accompanied her, so why wouldn’t she push it for him? What kind of vital supplies did he need, and why weren’t they with him? Why was he ‘bedridden’ for 16 hours? Lately, I seem to have a need to carefully question stories which appear on the internet or the mainsream media. Especially stories that are guaranteed to deliver shock and awe to the reader.

  16. Given a choice, I would prefer that United Airlines breaks a guitar rather than American Airlines destroy the motorized wheelchair of a quadriplegic passenger.

  17. @gary. While trying to make a reference to the Holocaust is downright disgusting and tone deaf- even for you.

    The customer should have never experienced such poor service. Perhaps focus on this poor service standard rather than click bait

    Blame the airport operation and thr pathetic excuse for a headquarters that AA has.

    I did a tour of their new shiny palace from an old intern friend. A short while back.

    Wanna talk about a clueless country club….


  18. My best friend is a quadriplegic in a motorized wheelchair and recently while flying we experienced two violations of the Air Carrier Access Act – not nearly as egregious as this guy’s experience, to be fair – but the problem is that airlines don’t face penalties for breaking the ACAA that are high enough for them to care about changing their ways. And so people with disabilities are afraid to fly because they just don’t know what will happen to them and the airlines are never held to account.

  19. The statement that AA didn’t have space for his motorized wheelchair seems highly suspect if he was on any mainline jet in the American fleet operating on a domestic flight.
    US airlines simply do not usually carry so much baggage that they run out of space.
    If they are running out of bin space, let alone for mandatory passenger assistive devices, they are doing something very wrong.

    Given that American consistently now rates with the absolute lowest baggage handling rate in the DOT’s air travel consumer report, if the plane ran out of bin space, it was because they mishandled another flight a bunch of other bags on that aircraft.

    There is a point at which the DOT needs to start removing AA’s authority to serve as an air carrier and the next step might be to remove their ability to carry government contract business.

  20. Honestly, Gary, what the F does “I wonder if the only thing that would make this more egregious is if the passenger victim were a holocaust survivor, too?” have to do with the story? Completely out of line and inappropriate.

  21. @huey judy: +1 here, exactly my thoughts while reading the story. I completely agree that the handling of this was beyond pathetic yet I don’t see where someone who has been wheelchair bound for this long doesn’t have Plan B already considered. I speak from experience, traveled with a wheelchair bound mother years ago, her chair was not boarded (fortunately a short trip from Denver to Los Angeles) but we discussed with United and they gave us a manual chair to use for the day until her chair was delivered to us the following morning. I am not a social media user but still wouldn’t have gone on blast about the incident via Twitter, Instagram, and FB. Just deal with shit as it is handed to you and make decisions based on who/what created the shit.

  22. What about Dresden survivors? East Berlin survivors? Holodomor survivors? West Bank and Gaza survivors?

  23. “I wonder if the only thing that would make this more egregious is if the passenger victim were a holocaust survivor, too?”

    Corrected this for you Gary:

    “I wonder if the only thing that would make this more egregious is if the passenger victim was black, too?”

  24. @c_m – well said.

    @adent – if it’s such a hassle then why did AA sell him a ticket in the first place? If they couldn’t fulfill the contract when they sold the seat then why sell the seat at all? AA is a dumpster fire

  25. The problem with social media is the a person gets to vent and tell their story, but what is (as Paul Harvey would say. . .) the rest of the story. Another reason facebook, instagram and other social media platforms should be shut down. They are ruining our country for the .009% that wants their 15 minutes of fame.

    I am sure something didn’t go according to plan, but not sure I beleive anything I read when I air my dirty laundry on social media.

  26. As they say, Google is your friend. There are a ton of informational sites about traveling with wheelchairs on planes, including a US Department of Transportation website with all the rules and regulations. Generally speaking, there are different rules for different plane sizes and you do need to let the airlines know your are coming with a wheelchair as well as all the specifics about what you need and the wheelchairs you are bringing. Li-Ion batteries are a special problem. Arriving in plenty of time is also a consideration. You don’t get to just show up and demand to be accommodated. And sometimes you’ll be asking for the impossible and the airline doesn’t have to accommodate you – they are required to provide “reasonable” accommodation, not “any” accommodation.

    That said, I wouldn’t go so far as to jump to ANY conclusions here, except that @Chatter is a complete asshat. It’s possible this guy wasn’t exactly following the rules, AA wasn’t exactly following the rules, or some combination of the two. However, to take your complaint to social media quickly in order to try and create a social media storm is generally proving to be more and more the province of bad actors. Not saying who’s right or wrong here, but I can almost guarantee you that this isn’t the whole story. It almost never is.

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