Help! Airline broke my wheelchair and ruined Hawaii vacation

The road to Hana in Maui. / Photo by Ying Hai - Flickr
It was supposed to be a vacation of a lifetime for Jane Gray — a trip from Southwest England, where she lives, to Maui.

But it ended in disaster when Alaska Airlines damaged her wheelchair on a connecting flight between California and Hawaii. And even though Alaska repaired her wheelchair and offered a flight voucher and eventually, cash compensation, it’s not enough. She wants my help.

Before I get to her disagreement with Alaska, here’s a little background: Gray has secondary progressive Multiple Sclerosis and depends on a customized wheelchair to get around. Before flying to Hawaii, she asked her travel agent for information about how to travel with her wheelchair, and was told the necessary arrangements could be made.

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That didn’t happen.

“Unfortunately, the chair was not correctly stored in the hold as the ground crew were desperate to meet the flight deadline,” she says. “They had laid my chair on its side as I subsequently found out on my arrival in Maui when it came out of the hold in bits. I was actually able to witness this as my seat was directly over the hold.”

Needless to say, the trip didn’t go as planned.

As a result of the damage to my wheelchair, the brake had been broken and could not be disengaged to enable my carer to take control of the chair. In addition the specially added feature of ‘carer controls’, were also damaged, leaving it impossible for her to take control of the chair as is necessary after a few hours of use by myself, due to the limitations of my illness.

In addition to this, the headrest attachment had been broken.

I could only venture out for approximately one hour at a time and was unable to go further than the hotel restaurant for dinner, for the entire holiday. I missed out on all the activities I had planned, causing great misery knowing the entire trip had become pointless.

An Alaska representative assured Gray that the airline took incidents like this “very seriously” and would do everything it could to make things right. But when Gray returned to the U.K., Alaska only offered to repair her wheelchair and offer her a $400 voucher.

Appeals to management were partially successful. Alaska upped its compensation offer from a credit to $500 cash.

But Gray was still unhappy. She’d paid nearly £6,000 for her vacation, and had been unable to enjoy it as a direct result of what she says was Alaska’s negligence. What’s more, the airline didn’t do what it had promised, which was to do everything it could to make things right.

But Alaska says it’s done enough. Here’s what a supervisor wrote to her after she appealed her case.

While I certainly apologize for any disappointment you experienced, we must respectfully deny your request to have your vacation reimbursed and for additional consideration in this matter.

Our offer of $500 USD still stands if you wish to accept this offer in lieu of the Discount Code you were previously issued.

Also, if you have additional receipts for repairs to your wheelchair stemming from your travels with us, please feel free to submit them for consideration.

Alaska is technically correct. Its contract of carriage, the legal agreement between Gray and the airline, and international law — specifically the Montreal Convention, which deals with lost and damaged luggage — suggests the airline did everything it was required to. It fixed her wheelchair and delivered her to her destination. In fact, it went beyond that by offering her cash compensation.

Gray believes she’s entitled to more.

“Who will compensate me for the distress and misery caused by the damage to my chair and the serious consequences of this, both emotional and physical?” she asks.

Should I get involved in this case? I sympathize with Gray. Clearly, her vacation was ruined by her damaged wheelchair.

On the other hand, she has no case that I can see, legally. If Alaska coughs up £6,000, then it will set a precedent, and anyone who loses a day of work because of a flight delay or has their golf vacation ruined because the airline lost their clubs, will be able to make a similar claim.

Update (6/12/12): Gray offers the following clarification in response to the comments.

I would love to clear up some details. Can I tell you though that the travel agent checked with all the airlines that the dimensions and weight of my chair were suitable for the cargo holds – I even flew on a 717 between the islands.

At each airport they were shown how to fold my chair but on this occasion they were not interested because they were being instructed to get the flight away on time as it was running late.

A member of the ground crew came on to the plane to tell me that it would have to be laid on its side and I said ‘no way’, but obviously that is what happened as we were told when we arrived in Maui.

I waited with several members of the Maui engineers and CEO of Maui Airport Authority for 4 hours in the lounge, whilst they tried to just put the chair back together.

One engineer was clever enough to see the problem and cable tie the gears which enabled the chair to function basically.

As the chair had been laid on its side the whole body had been shunted out of place, the back is customized to suit my shape in order to support me in my chair, as I cannot sit unaided upright as I have no upper body support.

The airline immediatly took responsibility. There were no electric wheelchairs available from Gammie. The airline flew in two wheelchairs from Seattle but the representative in Maui could immediatly see that they were not suitable for me.

A special part was needed from the manufacturers but this could not be acquired until I returned to the UK.

294 thoughts on “Help! Airline broke my wheelchair and ruined Hawaii vacation

  1. The only precedent Alaska would be setting would be for future MS patients who lose a dream vacation because of the airline’s negligence.

    These are unique circumstances, and Alaska’s response is shameful. Yes, you should mediate this one.

  2. which was to do everything it could to make things right

    Keywords there being “it could”. Let’s not kid ourselves: we all can do
    only up to a certain point we agree with, even if others expect or even
    want us to do more.

    Alaska Airlines could maybe pay at most the nearly £6,000 the OP
    (supposedly) paid for everything else. If she’s hoping for more than
    that, though, honestly she’s going to needlessly frustrate herself.

    Life throws you a curve ball and all that. How you react to that is up to you.

    Personally, mediate only up to a certain point. Good luck, Chris.

  3. Indeed, you have a strong point to rely the case on legal references knowing there’s no immediate regulation on how the compensation should be on damaged luggage as well as for the traveler’s part. 

  4. I think more info is needed. Sounds like the wheelchair is complicated. What are the manufacturer’s instructions as to how it should be transported? Does it have some kind of foldable case? Did she post some sort of sign on it to ensure people would take greater care? Trusting people with something with lots of machinery / moving parts is not wise. If she did all these things and the wheelchair still got damaged, I’d probably advocate for Alaskan giving her return tickets to re-do the air portion of her trip. While I sympathize with her, if she didn’t take all the precautions necessary, I don’t think Alaskan should be on the hook… It’s akin to them losing someone’s luggage with business attire or a wedding dress…

    I might be showing my ignorance here, but would it not have been possible for them to temporarily rent a wheelchair once in Hawaii? I’m sure Alaskan would’ve gladly borne the costs…

      1. I’m positive that she had a complicated wheelchair. All the more reason to do everything in her power to ensure it made the trip safely. This was definitely not her fault, but the airlines are treating her like every other passenger. So if the wheelchair was imperative to her enjoyment, she is the one who needed to be proactive in its transport.

        1. This is *not* like losing a wedding dress.  This is more like losing a prosthetic limb.  It is statements like yours – i.e., it’s not her fault, but she should have been more proactive – that make people with accessibility needs want to run you through (or over) with their assistive devices.

          There is only so much a fully-abled person can do to ensure lack of damage to their goods.  If you have something fragile you don’t want to leave to the tender mercies of airline baggage handling, you could always ship it through the mail.  That is not an option here – you have to hope to the common sense/intelligence of the people handling your assistive device.  There is only so much planning you can do when surrendering your wheelchair to other people.

          Other than standing on the tarmac and ensuring the baggage handlers actually secured her chair upright in a safe compartment where no other baggage would collide with it – something a fully-abled person would never be allowed to do, let alone an MS patient of Ms. Gray’s severity – I’m curious how proactive you felt she needed to be about her chair transport.   Baggage handling should understand when it gets a motorized wheelchair, it needs to be secured upright.  That should be SOP, not hope and pray.

          Okay – working on the rest of my response to this issue…

          1. Chasmosaur:

            I’m not sure I like your attitude. The OP had a problem. This site is all about fixing problems, ie. what could people have done better next time or if nothing, how should they be compensated. I don’t need to be threatened by you or your wheelchair-people-running-over friends.

            She put her wheelchair in with the rest of the luggage. I do not expect baggage handlers to be exceptionally sensitive to whatever they load. So other than (your) whining, I’d like to hear your solution (which I noticed you didn’t provide). If your answer is relying on the “common sense/intelligence” of others, then that is the very definition of a “hope and pray” strategy.

            My question in my original post remains: Was there a sign on the wheelchair saying that is had to be stored in an upright position? Bolted down? Fragile? If not, the airlines view their responsibility as done when they transport your things from A to B. If they are negligent, they pay to repair, which is what they have offered to do. I just know that if it were me, I would’ve done everything the other commenters have mentioned (signs, connection times, pay for special handling?, etc.) rather than leave it up to the “common sense/intelligence” of baggage handlers.

            And it IS like a wedding dress in the sense that if something happens to it, you are inconvenienced (like she was) and the loss leads to an irreparable situation but that does not mean the airlines will reimburse your trip / expenses because of inconvenience.

          2. Sorry you don’t like my attitude.  It wasn’t a threat, but it was an echo of the frustration felt by those in wheelchairs.  I am not one of those people, but I do work with them.

            I can assure you, there are those in the disabled community who have a lot of frustration with the attitudes of the more abled world around them.  There are many who are quick to compare the things we can do without issue – like take a vacation – as if it is as equally easy for them.  Or more so because they get certain “privileges” (like “good” parking, early boarding or bulkhead seats).  It isn’t.  You can plan and plan and plan, yet find that one person’s indifferent attention to accessibility needs can ruin a good chunk of your trip. Spend a month in a wheelchair – including travel – and get back to me about how polite the world is to the disabled and tell me if you think my echo wasn’t accurate.

            As for the chair handling – I’ve noted a few times here, there didn’t have to be a sign on it.  It’s part of the Air Carrier Accessibility Act.  Wheelchairs get priority loading in baggage handling on US carriers.  It’s a law, not just common sense.  Loading a wheelchair on its side is not priority handling.

            No wedding dress box I know – or golf clubs, or musical instruments, or whatever delicate and/or expensive thing that has to go in baggage handling – gets priority handling.  Because while these things are important, they aren’t central to doing things like getting from Point A to Point B.

          3. Thanks for providing the link. Interesting reading.

            While no sign was required by law, if you were the OP, and you had to do the whole thing over again, would you do anything differently? (I’m seriously asking for a serious response.)

          4. So do you think that there should be any limits to the airline’s liability if they break a wheelchair? What if the LW was going to attend a meeting to try to close a $1 billion business deal? Would Alaska owe her $1 billion dollars?

            Obviously not. LW had a caregiver with her. She should have rented a manual chair and let her caregiver schlep her around. It’s not that hard to be resourceful and make the most of a bad situation. 

            Alaska repaired the damage it caused to her chair and compensated her $500 for her troubles. That sounds fair to me.

            And to forestall your predictable reply of, “You don’t know what it’s like to care for the disabled, you insensitive clod!”, my wife also suffers from MS. 

          5. First of all, “she” did not “put her wheelchair in with the rest of the luggage.”  She surrendered her only means of mobility to the airlines to transport as they dictated. 

            My husband also  has MS. The airline tells us what they will do with the wheelchair. We do not have the choice of “putting it in with the rest of the luggage” (which you seem to suggest is somehow careless) or some other more “proactive” option. The airline takes on the responsibility of transporting and storing the scooter properly. Any reasonable and prudent person should know that a scooter or wheelchair should be stored upright without being told.

            As far as a sign, I never heard of anything so ridiculous. I can’t imagine where this sign could be put. If you lay it on the seat, it will just fall off. There’s no where to attach anything like that.

            And what language should we write these instructions in?

            As far as comparing this wheelchair to a wedding dress, that is absurd and demeaning. A bride can always make do with some other type of dress. That’s not the wedding of her dreams but it makes for a good story for the grandchildren. A person who cannot walk cannot simply make do with something else. That person is now a prisoner and completely helpless. It goes far beyond inconvenience.

            And as far as renting another wheelchair or scooter, it many places that cannot be done. My husband’s scooter died in San Diego, and there was ONE place in that large city that could accommodate us. Many cities, especially smaller ones, have no rentals for electric wheelchairs.

            My best suggestion is that you allow people who actually “walk the walk” of the wheelchair life to tell you what can and cannot be done rather than you telling them because you do not have a clue what you are talking about.

          6. 1) You’re reading way more into my post than is reasonable. I did not suggest she was careless. But she knew where the chair was going, even if she did not put it there herself.

            2) Really? You’ve never heard of putting a sign on something that is easily broken?

            3) It’s called scotch tape. Great invention.

            4) English. Universal language of aviation. Barring that, arrows. Store UPRIGHT only.

            5) Following your logic, only people who are wheelchair bound or caregivers of wheelchair bound people may make suggestions?

          7. You continue to show your complete ignorance of wheelchair life and travel.  If you tape something onto the scooter with scotch tape, it will simply get ripped off.

            And yes I know this from personal experience. I tried to tape bubble wrap around the control panel and steering column to protect it. The bubble wrap was ripped off. So much for your vaunted sign. (Was I proactive enough for you?)

            Furthermore, a sign is immaterial anyway since any person too stupid to look at a motorized wheelchair and know that it should be upright is too stupid to read a sign and follow instructions.

            But that’s not the real issue with you anyway. The real issue is that you have to be the absolute authority on everything even when it’s something at which you have absolutely no experience or knowledge.

            So since you’re such an expert on wheelchair travel, can we hire you to travel with us and protect the scooter? We have several years experience with this, but I’m sure that even though you’ve never done it before, you must know more about it than we do.

          8. Hmm. So far, two of the most vocal proponents for the OP have resorted to using threats and name calling. If you’d like the non-wheelchair-using community to better understand the situation, that’s not the way to do it. So, from what I’m gathering, if the OP had to do it all over again, she should just do exactly what she did and hope for a better outcome? If I’m ignorant (and that may very well be the case), I’m not sure what adjective I should use to describe that line of thinking. (Notice, I didn’t say, to describe YOU.)

          9. IMO, you’re the one with the attitude problem.  Your obvious insensitivity toward those who are differently abled is appalling.

          10. I was not comparing the lost of a wedding dress to the loss of a wheelchair. What I WAS comparing was the preparation of CONTINGENCY PLANS in case the wedding dress were lost or damaged. If one can make plans for something relatively minor as a wedding dress, can they be made for something as vital as a wheelchair?

            I was later told by someone that anyone using a custom wheelchair can ONLY use that wheelchair and rentals are NOT an option. 

      2.  Important Observation
        Just because she saw it on its side ON THE CONVEYOR BELT does not mean it was stored on the cargo hold also on its side and not UPRIGHT. Unless she had x-ray vision she could not determine how it was stored in the belly of the aircraft. The recommendation is to store these power chairs UPRIGHT !

        1. Kinda immaterial, isn’t it?  Whether it was on it’s side, upside down, or hung from the rafters, it came out in pieces.  That’s the issue here.

          1.  SUPPOSEDLY, they are to be stored UPRIGHT (according to the FAA because of the batteries). But if you take a look at the pic I posted, there is no stopping a handler from dumping bags ON TOP of the wheelchair. So imagine a 50 lb weight (or stacks of it) on top of the headrest of this thing. It broke. Unless you have a protective shell around this sensitive equipment then you’re SOL. That’s the issue.

    1. All major vacation areas offer wheelchair/scooter rentals. 
      I think Di$ney keeps a bunch in business alone.

      1. Yep. A Google search for “motorized wheelchair rental maui” took. 0.36 seconds. The first result is Would have been a good place to start to see if an acceptable temporary rental was available and if hers could have been repaired while in Maui.

      2. That’s exactly my point. I know if I was in Hawaii, I’d cobble together a skateboard and a cardboard box if it meant the difference between going out and seeing the sights or sitting in the hotel restaurant, that’s for sure!

      3. Those rental chairs are barely operable at times to someone with functioning hands.  When the seat sensor is busted because they’re being used too often by people who weigh more than the scooter is supposed to carry, they can be a downright pain in the butt to operate.  Someone with MS who has hand impairments would not be able to operate those.

        Really, if the answer was that simple, the woman wouldn’t need a specialized wheelchair and this wouldn’t have been brought to Chris’ attention.

        1. In pinch, a crappy chair is better than a broken one, no? It also sounds like she had a caregiver with her. Could the caregiver not push the chair?

          I mean, I’ve been in a wheelchair after a mishap involving some waterskis, and even the lousy rental I had to use was better than trying to torture myself walking through airports.

          1. No, a crappy chair can only make your time *worse* with fitful, unpredictable starts and stops, jerky steering that tires your arms in no time flat, or bad batteries that quit at the furthest point from the hotel.  If it’s a manual chair, there are cracked or torn seats that pinch legs and back or just don’t provide proper support, worn or wobbly wheels, foot rests that don’t support or won’t lock into place, wheels that want to go left when you want to go right, then there are the really gross ones that weren’t sanitized properly when the last person to use it had an “accident”… This isn’t a list of worst-case scenarios, they’re issues I have personally encountered with rental chairs.  One from each chair category was from a trip to Hawaii.

            As for the caregiver, we don’t know who the person was.  If it’s family, you would think that they would volunteer to help and jump right in.  If it’s a paid caregiver, well, like family, some are good, some are bad.  She may have one that’s contracted to only do X,Y, and Z like my Mom’s was.  Don’t know, don’t want to hypothesize.  But if she’d had to pay extra to have the caregiver work outside the assigned duties, how easily do you think the airline would fork over reimbursement for that?

            The ultimate point is, the airline shouldn’t have put the OP in that position in the first place.

          2. No, they shouldn’t have put her in a bad position to begin with, but demanding almost $10K for “emotional distress” is ridiculous.

  5. “Who will compensate me for the distress and misery….”

    Nobody.  Lives are full of stress and even misery.

    She makes a value judgment right off the bat: “Unfortunately, the chair was not correctly stored in the hold as the ground crew were desperate to meet the flight deadline”

    Did she interview the ground crew to determine that they were “desperate” and that’s why?  Or could it possibly be because she transported what sounds like a very complex, sophisticated piece of machinery as one would a typical suitcase?

    And that the entire trip was “pointless”?  Really?

    Throw this one in the dust bin with the other hyperbolic whiners.  Sorry to be so gruff but it’s Monday!

  6. Now, I know that luggage handlers are not the gentlest people in the world, but if this much damage resulted from simply laying the chair on it’s side while it was in transit, it sounds like it was too fragile to simply be stuck in the hold.  Most luggage holds that are loaded by hand aren’t even tall enough to stand up in, so gracefully and gently carrying it around isn’t possible.  It also may not even be possible to stand it upright… how are you going to keep it that way?  It needs to be secured against something, and the wall of the aircraft is sloped down there in the hold.  By the time the last-second pieces are loaded (strollers, wheelchairs, etc.) the aren’t any accessible forward-aft bulkheads either.

    If I’m a luggage handler, that thing is going on it’s side as gently as I can manage.  (vs. the alternative of it falling over during flight, which I’m sure would be worse.)

    1. Lots of unknowns.

      We do know that Alaska Airline’s website says this:

      Alaska Airlines transports all types of personal wheelchairs, including folding, collapsible, and non-folding manual wheelchairs; electric/battery-powered wheelchairs; and electric-powered carts and scooters.  The maximum dimensions for a wheelchair on Alaska Airlines are 33 inches high by 42 inches wide.

      Presumably the OP’s wheelchair met the dimension requirement.  A max-size wheelchair or thereabouts would seemingly take up less vertical space standing upright.

      Also, if the the OP was traveling from the UK to Maui, she must have flown at least 6 segments (probably 4 of them on Alaska Air).  How was the wheelchair stored on the other segments?   Is it clear that all the damage occurred on the segment that landed in Maui?  If there was something especially negligent about the handling of the wheelchair on that one segment, then that makes her case stronger IMO.

      On the other hand — as others have alluded to — did she communicate the impact of the wheelchair damage on her planned trip vacation activities to Alaska Air in personnel in Maui?  Did no one think of looking for a local rental / replacement?  Was none available that met her needs?

      1.  I don’t know her itinerary, but it is quite possible to fly from the UK to Maui with only 1 connection.

        1. I assumed that it wasn’t possible with Alaska, but you’re right, I see now that there is an LHR-SEA nonstop flight.  So it could have been as few as 4 segments round trip.

          Added: Actually, it says the last Alaska segment was from California, which implies OAK, SMF, SAN or SJC. Someone correct me if I’m wrong, but I don’t believe there are direct flights from the UK to any of these. Which brings us back to 6 segments minimum round trip.

        2. Correction: This must have been via SEA

          BA 49 LHRSEA- 310P 440P 744 0E
          AS 867 SEAOGG- 650P 949P N 737 0E

          is which case the AS equipment would be a 737.

          1. I would think the OP would know the difference in CA and WA. 

            I posted earlier that if she really ‘connected’ then how would she know that the outbound carrier didn’t damage the chair?  My guess is that she didn’t connect but had a layover and therefore AS was now the main carrier or otherwise they wouldn’t be paying.

          2.  That’s why I had to make a correction. Since if it was CA, then the flight would have been a CODESHARED AS flight which was probably a Delta 757/767.

  7. I don’t know if I am taking this too literally… 

    “Before flying to Hawaii, she asked her travel agent for information about how to travel with her wheelchair, and was told the necessary arrangements could be made.

    That didn’t happen.” 

    So, since arrangements COULD be made, did the travel agent fail to do so? Or were plans made and not carried out properly?

    Customers with disabilities do not need to identify their disabilities up front, but if special arrangements need to be made, these should be disclosed to the carrier.

    Also, it the OP was connecting in California to Hawaii, and using her own wheelchair to make a connection, extra time should be allotted for that connection rather than relying on standard connection times. It sounds like the flight was rushed to board, was that due to cutting it too close or some other reason?

    I make lots of contingency plans when I travel, such as where to rent skis or golf clubs if mine are delayed or damaged. My wife and I were married out of state and while she brought her own wedding dress, we had researched where to rent a wedding dress…just in case. Could the OP have rented a similar wheelchair to get through the vacation or while hers was repaired in Hawaii? I don’t think Alaska should be off the hook for the damage to the wheelchair, but the whole vacation cost seems a bit much.

  8. I was with her until she started whining about “emotional distress.” That sounds like a money grab to me. “Oh, I’m soooo distressed! Give me a free vacation and money to ease my paaaaaiiiiin!”

    I understand this was a custom wheelchair, but could she not rent a motorized one while in Hawai’i? Could she not have her carer push her around in a standard rental?  Then, bill Alaska for the rental as well!??Bad things happen, but people need to try and mitigate the circumstances.

    That said, another thing I’m curious about is how did she pack her wheelchair? Was it in some sort of protective case? (Not that I know anything about packing wheelchairs, but…when I travel with my handgun, it has a special locking case it has to be in)

    I really think the offer from Alaska was fair. They agreed to repair the wheelchair and even offered $500 cash, not airline funny money. They are not responsible for the cost of her hotels and meals and entertainment as she would like them to be.

    1. Thank you, once again you’re the voice of reason (or at least reason’s snarkier brother). 😉 The extent of Alaska’s responsibility is the repair of her wheelchair and likely the rental of another chair while the other is repaired. 

      Asking for full reimbursement of your vacation is way overboard. This is like the people who want airlines to pay for their entire wedding because they lost/damaged their wedding dress. It’s a little absurd. 

      1. Really?  Seriously?  Gee, Can you leave the plane without a wedding dress?  She can’t leave without her chair.

        1. The airline does acknowledge that it’s more serious than a wedding dress, as they have given her additional compensation. But you never answered my question. How much do you think their mistake is worth?

          1. The ramp staff were told how to handle the chair, and they were told it could NOT be stored on its side. They came back and informed the passenger that it would be stored on its side, in defiance of her instructions. They were negligent, perhaps even malicious.  Even if they had to remove other passengers’ bags or cargo, they are legally obligated to transport the wheelchair in a responsible manner.

            I think the customer should have done everything she needed to do to
            enjoy her vacation to the same degree that she would have if her chair
            had not been broken. 

            That means
            1) Renting the best chair possible
            2) Performing any modifications that could be performed on the wheelchair at the shop to improve the useability of the chair
            3) Hiring extra attendant(s) to do the extra work of pushing her around in substandard equipment
            4) A therapeutic massage every night to get rid of aches and pains of a ill-fitting chair
            5) Room and board for the extra caretaker(s)

            Alaska would be fully obligated to pay for all of those expenses, just
            as they would need to buy me clothes if my luggage was delayed for
            several days. 

            I think the customer could have easily gotten more than $10k in expenses from the airline.  Alaska should not pay any “pain and suffering”, but I do not think that replacement cost of the vacation (or at least a significant portion of it) is out of line. 

          1.  There are very few facilites that rent chairs, especially power ones, in Hawaii (or elsewhere, for that matter). I use a wheelchair. I was supposed to travel to Honolulu for an academic conference a couple of years ago and had to decline because of it. No airline could promise me that they would transport mine safely, and I wasn’t able to rent one there.

          2. At least they were HONEST to you. Wonder why the OP’s TA thought everything would turn out right.

          3.  They were, and I do appreciate that very much! I just hope that someday soon this won’t be an issue and I will be able to travel easier. There’s so much of the world I want to see!


            There was an option and this is something anyone traveling with special equipment should know about ahead of time in case of a problem. 

            What isn’t mentioned and is very important to this, is when did the OP report the problem to AS?  If at the airport, then why wasn’t a call made to find a substitute chair and have AS pick up the cost?  How proactive was the OP or her caregiver?  She had a right to a proper chair.

            A question to anyone who uses a chair like this.  Do you insure it, it in any fashion?

          5.  The store I bought my chair from has a service department that bills my insurance for any repairs. I would insure it if I ever traveled with it. I actually haven’t come across any type of travel or other insurance which would cover it, but I am sure it exists somewhere!

        2. It certainly sounds like Mrs Gray was able to leave the plane fine. She obviously was able to get on/off the plane without her chair since it was in the cargo hold of the plane. Heck, she even made a connection without the use of it. 

          There were certainly other wheelchair rental options available and it was made clear that the chair was still functional, while not 100%, why should Alaska foot the bill for the entire trip? 

          I seriously doubt Mrs Gray was only ever able to make it to the hotel dinning room, really?? Where there no cars available for rental on the entire Island of Maui for that week? Driving around to see the sites certainly doesn’t require a wheel chair. Was there not a single taxi that was able to take them around? This is the point where Mrs Gray should have mitigated her losses by being creative in finding ways to enjoy her vacation despite the loss of an obviously necessary mobility device. 

          Alaska fixed her chair on return, they aren’t responsible for all the secondary effects of the loss of the wheelchair. 

    2.  Wheelchairs don’t have protective cases; they’re meant to be used (and stored) in the normal upright position.  A custom chair is often just that… the seating and controls and control programming are one of a kind, meant to work with one particular person’s disability.   It’s not uncommon for one to weigh on the order of 250-400 lbs — pushing, except for very short distances, is not an option.

      What people are asking here is somewhat analogous to asking someone who the airlines took their dentures from (not that they do!) to use someone else’s for the duration of the trip.  Doesn’t fit, won’t work, makes you miserable.  What they did was equivalent to taking her feet from her for the duration of the trip. 

      If you were to ship your car overseas via container shipping, wouldn’t you be a bit surprised and dismayed to find that somebody decided to load the container into the ship on its side?

  9. Isn’t there a wheel chair or rental facility any where in Maui?  I would have expected the discussion to be about the cost of a temporary repair and / or rental being too high and a subsequent repair in England and one or two days wasted in Maui.  Sorry, Ms Grey, I don’t know you particular circumstances and I would be livid if something similar happened to me, but while you were stuck in the hotel would have been a good time to get the concierge working on finding a repair place to get you out and about again.

  10. I think that you should mediate only to find out of the chair was stored properly. If the chair had specific storage requirements that the airline ignored then I think she would be entitled to more compensation. There is not enough information for me to say she should receive a complete refund.

  11. Why mediate? At this point, the only further outcome with mediation is for additional compensation. If I read the article correctly, the airline repaired the wheelchair AND offered $500 CASH. Frankly, in today’s age and time, that is pretty generous.

    It’s not like mediation is going to cause an epiphany from the airline on how to change its baggage handling policies. As others have said, there are numerous medical supply stores that would have been more than willing to rent a wheelchair for the duration of her stay in Hawaii. Had she done that, and the rental bill exceeded $500, she would have a stronger case for additional compensation.

    I have no choice but to say that Gray may have learned a bit of American entitlement and is asking too much. Let this one go.

  12. I voted for you to mediate and here’s my line of thinking – a specialized wheelchair, especially for a person with this kind of disability, is less a piece of luggage (like the golf clubs you used as an example) and more like a part of their body. If the airline had done something to a non-disabled person that caused injury to their body and made them miss out on the majority of their trip, I think more than paying their doctor bills and $500 cash would be expected. This is a case where fighting to get this kind of precedent set is the right thing to do

    All of that being said, I agree with mikegun in that the language used “arrangements COULD be made” is a little…squishy. Were they made? If not, who was responsible for making them? If these questions are answered to the point where the traveler bears no responsibility for what happened, I think she should be reimbursed a whole lot more than $500.

    1. But under the contract of carriage it is NOT a body part, but baggage.  They both repaired the chair, and REFUNDED $500.00 cash, so thinking they should pay her hotel bills (where she stayed), her restaurant bills (where she ate), etc, is a bit ridiculous.  HAD she gotten a rental chair, and asked for THAT cost to be refunded, I’d say that was a fair ask on her part, but to ask for your entire vacation – no.  If an able-bodied person sliped in the airport and broke an arm, you wouldn’t expect their entire trip to be refunded, especially when they took it.

      1. And what I’m suggesting is that the carriage of contract needs to be updated to reflect that, in this and similar cases, the traveler’s wheelchair is a body part. 

        And you’re right, if an able-bodied person slipped in the airport and broke their arm, I wouldn’t expect this. But if an able-bodied person had both of his legs broken by the careless actions of the grew of their flight, I’d sure as hell expect the airline to cover all of his damages, including those incurred by the loss of the trip.

        1. Most likely they’d cover only the medical and actual expenses (e.g. amount of hotel room, shuttle) incurred because they’re somewhat “easier” to prove. If a person asks for compensation for “emotional distress”, that’s…where it also can get squishy.

  13. When will someone introduce a bill that states, “IF YOU PAY IN CASH, YOU GET A CASH REFUND, NOT CREDIT OR VOUCHER!!”

    1. Except it did not represent a refund.  She was getting – in addition to the chair being fixed, as is proper – a gesture of good will in the form of a voucher. 

  14. Obviously, none of you have had contact with anyone who must use a custom wheelchair.  Wheelchairs are not an option, like golf clubs.  To MOVE you must have the chair.  If you NEED a custom chair a ‘regular’ chair will not suffice.  (motor or not)  My daughter would seize right out of any ‘rugular chair.  If that happed to up, our vacation would have been ruined.  Not just ruined, but POINTLESS. as we would not have been able to go anywhere.  If the wheelchair is custom, there was specialized clinics to make sure the chair conforms to the users need.  You cannot just rent a chair or make quick repairs.  (It took four months to get a necessary new footrest (specialized to fit) for my friend’s son.) 
    I did not like the whiney tone but how would you feel if you spent that much, planned a long time, went through all that hassle – just to sit in a hotel looking out at all the people who could just WALK? 

    1. I wouldn’t blame it on the airline. 

      BTW, she had her chair and could control it. She makes a confusing statement, indicating the limitation that her caretaker couldn’t control the chair “after a few hours of use by myself,” but then says that the headrest problem meant that she “could only venture out for approximately one hour at a time”.  So if the limiting factor was the broken headrest, why mention the other problem that was much less restrictive.

      Again, not to be gruff, but this person probably wasn’t exactly going to go parasailing.  How many activities were truly “ruined”?

      1. Again I emphasize that the chair WORKED.  It was not dumped in a mangled heap on the hotel room floor.

        1. The damage limited her even more than her illness.  The airline was negligent in storing the chair.  They should pay.

          1. Well, despite your begging the question, it actually doesn’t.  The chair was operable by the user. 

          2. I think you are misinterpreting the article. It sounded to me like she probably tried to make do with a rental chair (although that is not specifically stated) and couldn’t do very much as a result. The amount of damage she describes indicates that the chair was not operable. 

          3. The damage she described was limited to the headrest and to the caretaker’s ability to control the chair.  There was nothing indicating that her chair was unusable, despite her saying it was removed from the plane “in bits”. 

          4.  We have no idea if the airline was negligent in transporting the chair.  We know it was damaged, but the chair could have been more fragile than anything that should go in a cargo hold without some other form of protection.

          5. No chair should be placed on its side much less a motorized one.  How did they turn it over?  Do you know how much just one battery weighs?

          6. But we only have her word she “saw” it on its side from the cargo hold – it may have been turned on its side on the conveyor belt, we just don’t know.

          7. Michael_K has an excellent post citing the airline website with the details on all the different sorts of wheelchairs they accept.  They accepted the chair, so any damages are on them.

          8. My answer to that would be “no.” Certainly not for the full amount since she was able to use the chair at least to some degree. 

            My response was centered around sirwired’s suggestion that it was somehow her fault the chair was damaged, which I think it quite clearly was not.

          9. Which they covered – they payed to fix the chair AND gave her a $500 goodwill gesture.  That’s all (and more) they are legally responsible for.

        1. Nonsense.  I refuse to believe that this lady sat in the hotel room and cried during the entire trip.  She already indicated that she could use the chair for “several hours” at a time.  To put the airline on the hook for the entire cost of the vacation is ridiculous.

          1. So tell me,  if you had planned & paid, would you be “happy” to be able to “enjoy” your vacation (uncomfortable in a damaged chair) “several hours at a time”?  Of course they did what they could to mitigate damages by a unsuitable repair but it was not enough. 

          2. I might be upset, but I wouldn’t be asking for a full refund from the airline!  How absurd!

    2. I agree.   My husband is paraplegic and although not requiring a “specialized wheelchair”  his is custom made (costing several thousand dollars) and a rental would be difficult.   Some of these comments are rather harsh.   And comparing transportation of a wheelchair to a gun?  Or golf clubs?    An eye opening experiment is to try being in a wheelchair for a weekend.   Not just in public but in a hotel room (or your own home).   Transfering from chair to bed, using the bathroom facilities etc.,   You might gain some perspective

        1. Looks like a giant version of my gun case. Now where’s the indignant person who said “can’t compare it to a checking a gun.”


          1. As pointed out, a gun or golf clubs are not  necessary pieces of equipment to allow you to live a reasonable life.   Perhaps if you tried the experiment I suggested you would have a better understanding of the obstacles – and a little less of the “snerk”

          2. Your experiment suggested that able-bodied people use a wheelchair to see how difficult it would be going from chair to bed, or chair to bathroom, or whatever.

            While a noble experiment, I need to point out that the airline did not put this woman into a wheelchair.  She would have the same difficulties whether the caregiver controls were broken our not.

          3. All the more reason to bring the proper storage unit to safeguard your equipment – something the airline neither provides nor is required to.  If it IS such a big deal, she needs to transport it responsibly (I have several clients who must, and do, transport with proper protection) – otherwise accidents can happen.  It is very sad, but not something the airlines should be on the hook for an entire vacation cost for.

          4. it was no accident. The airline intentionally mishandled it after being instructed not to handle it that way.

        2. Sometimes you have no choice.  And there are no “protectors” available short of a crate.  And you can’t supervise loading of the crate once you are already on the plane!  So you are stuck – wishing, hoping, praying.

          1.  That’s right, nothing short of a crate might work… but crates containing asssistive devices, like wheelchairs, are transported for free!  If the chair is both fragile and nearly irreplaceable, it would seem silly to NOT have one when sending it via the luggage hold!

          2. Or you can have a Haseltine – my clients always travel with it to protect their personal wheelchair

          3. Not considered baggage, though, as it is a wheelchair, and protected by the government from extraneous charges – as I said, I do have clients who use this when necessary.  (Her chair cost over $12 K!)

          4. It has to fit through the cargo door or else be taken apart (which defeats the purpose).   

            [And the passenger must have  the capability  to store it and transport it to the airport.]

            As TonyA pointed out, Haseltine’s own website says that “737’s  have difficulty loading them.”


        3. 1) Does Alaska Airlines even transport these protectors?

          The 504-C is more than 120 linear inches.

          On Alaska Airline’s website, it states:

          No single piece of checked baggage may weigh more than 100 pounds and/or exceed 115 linear inches (length + width + height). Alaska Air Cargo may be able to assist you with any piece in excess of 100 pounds or larger than 115 linear inches

          There’s an exception for military personnel, but I see none for wheelchair passengers.

          Using Alaska Air Cargo would probably defeat most of the point of travelling with a personal wheelchair.  

          It does say on the product’s website that United, Delta, and American accept these as baggage.

          2) Can this protector be shipped to the UK (and for how much)?  It costs almost $1,000 with shipping within the Continental U.S.   We don’t know how much the wheelchair cost, but that’s a pretty steep price to pay if she doesn’t plan to fly with her wheelchair regularly.

          3) You’re assuming the passenger has space to store this beast and is able to transport it to the airport.

          4) Note that the OP used a travel agent, so she did get professional advice about transporting her wheelchair.

          1. My comment was strictly in reply to TonyA’s question as to why the OP didn’t use a protective encasement (like the Haseltine 504-C that he linked to).

            If the airline has to disassemble the protective encasement to make it fit, then I don’t see any point in using one.

          2. I doubt whether your last point #4 is correct. I think Chris Elliott should identify the brand and model of this wheelchair so we can get an idea of its dimensions and weight.

          3. Huh?  I wrote:

            4) Note that the OP used a travel agent, so she did get professional advice about transporting her wheelchair. 

            based on what the article plainly states:

            Before flying to Hawaii, she asked her travel agent for information about how to travel with her wheelchair, and was told the necessary arrangements could be made.

          4.  OK so ???  The wheelchair broke. What good is that professional advice? Note: I worked at Fedex for almost a decade (I should know something about cargo). You think if I had such an important medical aid, I will allow it UNPROTECTED in the belly of a 737 ??? 🙂

          5. What good is the protector unless Alaska Air accepts it and the passenger has the capacity to transport it from her home to the airport?

            Are we saying people in this predicament shouldn’t travel?

          6. If they hired a professional, then the Pro could have figured out how to ship that equipment.

            Regarding you last sentence, that’s really not our say.

          7. @TonyA_says:disqus,  It’s our say as a society whether our values include doing everything we can so that people with disabilities can have the same access as the rest of us.

            It seems she DID hire a professional — are you suggesting she’s barking up the wrong tree and should be complaining to her TA?

          8. Obviously since I am a seller of travel I hope they DO travel but I cannot tell anyone whether they should or should not travel. That’s their own (personal) call.

            I can only answer the wheelchair issue from a commonsensical point of view. I am very familiar with Part 382 and the Montreal Convention but I find that rather irrelevant if one wants to IMPROVE their chances of enjoying their vacation. Sure the law required the airline to stow your wheelchair but will it arrive in good shape so you can use it? From a common sense perspective, it is the owner’s responsibility to protect his/her sensitive property from damage is he/she wants to enjoy its benefits. Look, if I store my camera in a travel case because I want to protect it, why shouldn’t one do the same for a sensitive electronic wheelchair?

            The fact that  people use Haseltine cases for wheelchairs proves that some people know what can happen to their wheelchairs if they don’t use one. They break in the cargo hold or during transport. Now if her TA was really good, s/he would have called the airline and ask which Haseltine (size) could they accommodate. To assume that the airline will dismantle such a delicate piece of equipment (and expect them ro reassemble them later) is bordering stupidity. Have you seen what kind of people airlines hire as cargo handlers ???

            As far as I am concerned, a CUSTOM MADE electronic wheelchair is delicate CARGO. If I were her TA, I would have talked to the cargo folks of the airline to make sure I can get this fragile equipment in ONE PIECE to and from Maui. I expect to be paid a pretty sum for my work, too. You all need to understand, airlines move both PEOPLE AND CARGO. Don’t assume the latter is just your suitcase.

          9. If I were her TA, I would have […]

            What evidence do you have that the OP’s TA didn’t do all the things you write you would have done?  

            Isn’t it possible “that didn’t happen” refers to the TA’s best made plans?

          10. None, except — If I knew she had something huge to stow, I will not pick a 737 cargo hold for it. Of course, that’s me since I have a cargo background.

            BTW you don’t have any evidence to prove the TA did a good job either, do you?

    3. So it is 100% impossible for anyone with a custom wheelchair to utilize a rental from anywhere?  You’re right, I wasn’t aware and this is why I asked. Thank you for your information.

    4. So how can anyone in a “specialized” chair board a plane? Don’t they require you to transfer to the “aisle” chair?

      (Not being snarky; just curious)

      1. From reading this column regularly, I know you fly often.  Haven’t you seen the transfers?  Yes you use your chair as far as the door, then you or they transfer you to an aisle chair.  Or they may have to carry you to your seat depending on disability. Then they take your chair to the cargo area.  You can plan all you want.  If they are not careful with the chair storage there can be lots of damage.

        1. I’ve seen people transfer to the aisle chair before boarding or at the end of the jetway. Beyond that, I don’t know what happens.

          Like I said, this isn’t my area of expertise and I’m just a casual observer. I don’t want to “stare” or “watch” people being assisted. I can only imagine it makes them feel uncomfortable. When I had my mishap and had to use a manual chair for a few weeks, I didn’t like people watching me.

    5. Hi Needachair:

      I am trying to empathize with you and others who need a chair for mobility. Yes, the airlines screwed up her vacation. But the question is, how much should they pay (beyond the repairs and $500)? There are lots of comments back and forth but no one is addressing that (most pivotal) point.

      1. Although I know most of you regular commentors will not agree, I also know that without my daughter’s wheelchair, I could not take her to the bathroom!  She could only use the hotel restaurant, she could only go one hour…And that was in the damaged chair!  You people are so cynical.  Not everyone is looking to take advantage.  SI would want the vacation replaced.  You worry and plan and plan & worry and then go thru security!  Read some of these columns if you haven’t seen how TSA treats disabled flyers.  Yes Yes I know  that is not the airlines fault.  But the hassle! the hassle of the whole trip.  How long do you hang around the airport upon reaching your destination?  How long did she?  Trying to repair it, being uncomfortable and/or in pain.  And then fixing it properly once home.  It takes forever and costs a fortune.  And all because the airline screwed up.  When you have MS or any other severe disability, you have to fight for everything, sometimes just to breathe.  She shouldn’t have to fight just to take a vacation. 

        1. I think we’re cynical because most of the cases on here really are just money grabs. I mean, “Oops, my four year old sipped some rum on a cruise now I want a free cruise” comes to mind.

          After reading your comments and some of the others, I am feeling more for the OP. As I’ve said, I’ve only been in a manual chair temporarily after a broken leg. I don’t know much about MS, but from reading all of this, I really empathize with the OP’s chair being broken and the impact this had on her vacation. I don’t know that Alaska should replace the entire cost of the vacation, but perhaps they (and whoever they partnered with to fly out of the UK) could give her a free flight to do it over?

          Yes, I am usually the cold-hearted one of the bunch…

          1. Probably wouldn’t help her in the UK, though – at least they poined up cash versus the voucher.

          2. It does get tiring listening to people whining & expecting the world because of some small mishap.  My friend used to say her son was independent in his wheelchair – not confined or wheelchair bound.  He could not sit up by himself.  She certainly could not be independent without her chair.
            You are pleasingly snarkky.  Also you are fair.  I know they are legally responsible to repair/replace the chair.  But her life mostly stopped without it.  They owe her.
            And Chris is an advocate.  I did not think that meant only for things that were clearly legal.  (There are lawyers for that)  I thought it meant that he helped people who need help.  Who cannot always help themselves.  Who do not have the connections he does.  I thought it meant he tried to help other people & bigger corporations see what the consequences of their actions/policies are. To help people have some compassion.  No – he cannot help everyone & it is hard sometimes to weed out the “takers” but clearly that is not the case here. 

    6. Who said she had to sit in the hotel the whole vacation? They do have taxis on Maui, they also have car rentals and I’m sure she could have hired a driver if her “caregiver” wasn’t able to drive. 

      1. Get a cab?  How is she to get TO the cab?  OUT of the cab?  Or are you recommending that she just pay someone to drive her around Hawaii while she looks out the window?

          1. Excellent point.  What she should have done is rent a more specialized chair from Gammie, and had Alaska Air foot the bill for the rental.  It would have at least allowed her some enjoyment of the island.

          2. When she told AS about her problem still hasn’t been said.  Did she notify AS at the OGG airport?  If so, yes, AS should have obtained a rental chair for her right away.  I just can’t get a handle on when she filed her complaint.

        1. Well, I’m assuming Mrs Gray got to the airport somehow, perhaps a car, I don’t think she flapped her arms and flew she would be able to sit in a car. I also think that since she was able to sit in a transatlantic flight for 15+ hours to get to Hawaii from London she could comfortably sit in a car seat. 

          Part of Mrs Gray’s complaint was that she couldn’t enjoy her vacation and was forced to sit in her room. I’m merely pointing out that there was lots of way to mitigate her loss of extended use of a wheelchair during her stay in Hawaii and that sitting in her hotel room wasn’t the only option. 

          Also, had she done this, I’m fairly certain that Alaska, when presented with the bills would have compensated her at least partially for the expense. Heck, they’ve already offered her $500 in cash.

  15. Get involved.

    This isn’t a case of lost clubs throwing off a golfer’s game because he had to use rentals.  This woman has a handicap that her wheelchair was specifically designed to help her manage.  She booked a vacation that was within her capabilities when properly assisted by her mobility device.  Because the airline broke her chair, she was physically incapable of fully participating in the experience she would have had if the airline had done their job. 

    Yes, they fixed her chair, and if they had done so while she was still on vacation so she could use it, I would say stay out of it, they fulfilled their obligation.   But their negligence was the direct cause of her being prevented from participating in the vacation.  She did her part, making sure her travel agent informed the airline to ensure her specialized equipment arrived as it should.

    While normally when people want to be compensated for their “distress and misery” and “emotional consequences” and I instantly assume “drama queen” (and I can’t help but feel that there is a little of that going on), the key point here, and I can’t stress this enough, is that she wasn’t just “inconvenienced” by lost or damaged luggage.  Her vacation really was ruined as a direct result of the airline’s actions, and they should pay for it.

    1. Also – stress for an MS patient?  A particularly not-good thing.

      As I noted in my longer rant below (we disagree on the wheelchair issue – I know they are personal and rentals aren’t great, but if it meant the difference during excursions of being able to visit and not, short stints in the chair might be tolerable – it depends on where Ms. Gray was in the progression of her MS, I think), this is a device central to mobility.  The disabled should not be treated so lightly.

  16. I am a nurse, and I have worked with many people in my career who have traveled with caregivers, specialized wheelchairs, oxygen concentrators, etc.  It seems to me (and I could be wrong) that she let the baby be thrown out with the bathwater.  Why not rent a new wheelchair?  I realize hers was a custom, but surely in the state of Hawaii there existed some form of replacement.  It may not have been the “best” option, but if I’m on a once in a lifetime vacation, I make do.  Sometimes the best vacations come out of the worst situations.  While I’m sorry the OP’s wheelchair was damaged, I believe that she could have salvaged more of her own vacation, rather than asking for a complete refund.  I don’t think she’s entitled to more compensation, I think she could’ve had a better vacation had she chosen to do so. 

    1. It sounds like she did try to make the best of it.  But the damaged chair limited movement.  So you think she should have been “happier” about it.  That doesn’t change the fact that the airline damaged the chair and in doing so limited her tremendously!

  17. I didn’t vote because I feel if you did mediate this case, she really shouldn’t be entitled to the entire £6000 since she did actually go to Hawaii. However, $500 seems a pittance after being so restricted once reaching her destination, due to the negligence of the ground crew properly stowing her wheelchair. How much to mediate for? That’s the million dollar question.

  18. I went on a three-week ski trip to Europe.  I got a cold on the airplane because the crew was negligent in not properly sanitizing the tray table in front of me or filtering the air and it harbored dangerous bacteria that could have killed me under different circumstances.  Because of it, I was miserable and not able to fully participate in the vacation.  The flight was $1500 but the activities and food (which I could not enjoy due to the fact that my nose was stuffed up because of the staff’s negligence) cost $6300.  Will you mediate my $7800 ruined vacation?

    1. Spoken like someone who is able-bodied.  Comparing a cold to Multiple Sclerosis…  Wow.  Just, wow.

      1. Not at all.  The airline didn’t give her MS.   I’m just commenting on the sense of entitlement people feel.  Judging by the poll..I’d say I’m in the majority.

        1. No, but it accepted her wheelchair for transportation and damaged it making her vacation basically pointless.  Who goes to Hawaii to sit around in a hotel room watching television.  She could have stayed home and done that

      1. Perhaps she didn’t want that – who knows at this point.  Gammie in Hawaii has a nice selcection of rentals, even some more “personalized” ones for various limitations – do not know why this was not an option.

        1. That was my thought, too.  There had to be any number of medical supply locations in and around Hawaii that would have been able to meet her needs.  And had she let the airline know, on Day 1, she had located a suitable short-term replacement, they would probably have said, “Go ahead and we’ll reimburse you”.  Get it in an e-mail and her vacation problems were solved.

  19. I think the airline has done enough.
    She claims that the chair was broken due to intentional improper handling (basically alleging gross negligence) but I can’t see where she has any proof that that really is the case beyond her opinion. It’s equally possible (and I say more probable) that her chair is not designed for typical airline handling and should have been in a protective crate.
    The airline responded in a manner consistent with simple negligence. They repaired the damage and gave her a goodwill voucher. They shouldn’t owe her anything else until there was an intentional act on the part of an airline employee to damage the chair (ie placing it on the tarmac and repeatedly running it over with a vehicle).
    I find it hard to believe that there wasn’t a single vendor in all of Hawaii that couldn’t have gotten her a temporary replacement for her time there. While not the chair she grown used to using, it would have still allowed her, with the assistance of her caregiver, to experience her vacation. Based on the details included, she didn’t even attempt to take this basic step.  She just assumed that there wouldn’t be something that would work for her. If no other chair works for her, I wonder what she did while her chair was being repaired?

  20. Chris shouldn’t mediate this, a Hawaii civil court should do that.  Since we’re talking 6000 British Pounds (something like $9200), it might actually be worth hiring a local attorney in Hawaii, or one who would take it on contingency (I know she didn’t pay that much money to Alaska Airlines, but if that’s what she spent, she’d probably want to sue for that much or more).  I’m not going to give any legal advice here, but I’m thinking that she wouldn’t need to appear in court either to give oral testimony, so travelling back to Hawaii wouldn’t be necessary.   There is no way in the world that the airline is going to pay out      more than what it already offered with Chris mediating, but a lawsuit might be a different story, even with the Montreal Convention limits.

    1. She wouldn’t have a prayer in a lawsuit, at least not for the full amount of the trip.  
      She’s already been compensated for repairs to the chair and she acknowledges she was able to do some things on the vacation, so basically by default she wouldn’t get the full amount.  There was nothing malicious, so it’s not like she’s looking at an opportunity for punitive damages. No attorney would be excited about this case.

  21. Chris, in a number of articles, I’ve seen you write phrases such as, “On the other hand, she has no case that I can see, legally.”

    This indicates that you’re at a cross-roads, and have a decision to make.  

    Either you should advocate for what is legally required, and make sure consumers get every penny they’re entitled to.  Or you should advocate for what consumers deserve in a moral and just society, pointing out the ethical lapses of those we do business with.

    While this particular case may have gotten everything they’re legally entitled to, that don’t make it right.   And that’s the case you should be arguing.   If you want to talk about the legal case, we should bring a lawyer into the discussion.

    1. I am at a crossroads. But it’s a little more complicated than yes/no, for me. The passenger already received more than what she was legally entitled to; she wants Alaska to cover the cost of her vacation, which would set an interesting precedent. That’s where I’m conflicted.

      1. Chris, Is there a middle ground?

        For example: Could you tell the OP that you are not comfortable advocating for a 100% reimbursement of her vacation, but that you might be comfortable advocating for something more than the ~5% reimbursement she’s already been offered?

      2. Not unless she is a dying (terminally-ill) veteran who has not used their ticket and want a refund.

        But this woman wants to get her whole fare back from an interlined carrier (Alaska) whose only job was to complete her journey to Maui from a US location (not England). Why should Alaska Air even consider to refund the Atlantic portion of the trip. They don’t even have that money. Besides, she completed the trip. The only question here is the wheelchair repair or damage compensation.

      3. I don’t think legal entitlement should be the standard for mediation.  If it were, then they wouldn’t need a consumer advocate they’d just get an attorney.  I think of your job as making business do the right thing, not merely the legal thing

  22. I voted yes, only because they apparently did not repair her chair to its full working state. Therefore they did not comply with the Montreal conventions. They should have called in a specialist to repair that chair before they even left the airport in Maui. I’m sure there is someone in Hawaii that could repair that chair properly, even if they had to fly them in from one of the other islands. It is in that respect that Alaska Air was negligent.

    1. Do we know from the narrative if Alaska Airline did or didn’t offer to fix it in Maui? What would she have used while it was getting fixed?

      I also suggested a rental or getting it fixed in Maui. Based on previous replies to that suggestion, a rental for a temporary replacement chair is not an option for anyone with a custom chair. (Which surprised me because I would think that determination would be on a case by case basis.) I can only imagine that she had to use the broken chair until she got home where she probably had her backup custom chair available to use while her primary was in for repair?

    2. But she didn’t LET them fix the chair for her until AFTER her vacation, when she returned to the UK – her choice, obviously – and not a very good one.

      1. Where are you getting that she was offered repairs on the spot?  That’s not in the article and it’s highly unlikely that was an option–the airline wasn’t going to fix the chair themselves and even if she got immediate approval from them to cover all repair costs she would have had to of found someplace in Hawaii to fix it, arranged to have the chair transported to the repair place, and been without it while it was fixed.  

        1. They could have rented her another – Gammie is a specialist in that area, and probably could have made the recommendation to either fix or ship it back as well.  Just wish she would tell us more about this point – what was offered, why another rental wasn’t taken, etc.

    3. Have you examined the claim as required by the Montreal Convention? How can you say Alaska is negligent? And, according to Chris they already got (more than) what they entitled to under the Convention. What else should be done?

    4. But she doesn’t state WHY she waited until her return to England to get it fixed.  Perhaps she chose that method, in which case, what could they really be expected to do?  I really wish I had been her travel agent – I would have contacted Gammie immediately,  gotten a more specialized rental chair for her, and submitted the bill to Alaska to pay.  OF COURSE< I would have suggested a better way to ship her wheelchair in the first place, making this a moot point (but I like having back-up options available!)

  23. Mediate.  Frankly I am shocked at some of the comments.  I have a relative with MS and she has a very customized chair.  Her chair has a large keypad that allows her to communicate verbally with people, is breath activated/ steered, and is all set up specifically for her. She doesn’t have great head control so the headrest on her chair is vital. Without it her head would be flopping around.  She would be miserable and uncomfortable and likely unable to withstand a normal wheelchair for long periods of time.   

    This is not like breaking a leg on vacation and needing a wheelchair to get through the airport, this woman needs her chair 24/7. To equate a broken wheelchair with golf clubs is disgusting. How about equating it with the airline breaking someone’s back or cutting off a leg? Their breaking her chair impacted this woman’s ability to move.

    Yes she could use the chair for short periods of time. My guess is, like my relative’s chair, the chair can be used by breath or by someone else taking control of it. I’m a healthy person and I don’t think I could breath control a chair for an entire day, likely someone with MS can only do it for very short periods of time. The letter says the chair wasn’t able to be controlled by a care giver, only by Ms, Gray. The could very well mean that then she was only able to use it for very short periods of time.

    She tried to make the proper arrangements, she tried to ensure that her wheelchair was checked and going to arrive in working order. The airline failed to do that. $500 is far from enough.

    1.  The OP’s wheelchair worked.  She was not without it.  She could use it for “several hours” at a time.

      1. The complaint says she could use it an HOUR at a time. 

        This is a disabled woman with a severe impairment made considerably worse by a company whose duty it was to transport her and her wheelchair. 

        If they lost your artifical leg would you be ok?  After all you could just hop on the other leg the whole time.  Certainly you can hop all day right? 

        1.  As I pointed out earlier, she mentioned both one hour and also using it for “several hours” at a time due to the caretaker’s controls being broken.  If the headrest was the limiting factor at one hour, she would not have mentioned the other limitation.

          “leaving it impossible for her to take control of the chair as is necessary *after a few hours of use by myself*”

          1. Ok and?  Going back to what I said about them losing an artifical leg, would you be ok hopping all day?  Or say half the day? 

            This is a shameful and disgusting circumstance that should not have occured and when it did Alsaka Airlines should have taken the steps to correct it and made the customer happy.

          2. If I was truly determined to be miserable without a prosthetic leg, I would ask for it to be replaced, to be flown home immediately so I could recover my vacation time, and possibly a refund on the flight. 

            I wouldn’t fly there, sleep at the hotel, eat the food, fly back, and then whine about how miserable I was and ask for a refund on every penny I spent.

          3. I read that as, she was able to use it for an hour at a time AFTER the damage. When it is in full, working order, she is able to use if for several hours at a time before the caregiver has to take over. However, after it was damaged, she could only use it for an hour without injury/pain, and there was no way to switch it over to caregiver-control. Thus, after an hour, she’s stuck, in pain, unable (physically) to handle the chair, and unable to give control over to an able-bodied person.

  24. This should be mediated.  Because Alaska Airlines does owe her more than $500 cash (about 5% of the  £6,000 vacation after rate conversion).  The repairs were covered, and that’s good.  But they weren’t timely, and it appears that the wheelchair is central to Ms. Gray’s mobility.  And as for setting a precedent, this is specific to the accessibility community.  To compare a broken expensive assistive device to recreational golf clubs is laughable and a little insulting.

    Also, Ms. Gray probably has some grounds for a lawsuit based on the Air Carrier Access Act. (And as this happened on a US carrier and Air Alaska doesn’t appear to fly out of England, then I believe this is a US case, even though she is a UK citizen).  Because wheelchairs take priority over items in the baggage compartment.  It should have been loaded with care.

    Mediation for a better result is probably in Alaska Airlines’ favor here, as it would probably be less expensive.  And any part of that settlement should include retraining for the baggage handlers at whatever US airport Ms. Gray boarded her plane (LAX?).  Because no one with a wheelchair that needs to go into the baggage hold should have to worry about this.  (Because the proper handling of assistive devices is also covered by the ACAA, if common sense isn’t enough.)

    I don’t think every person with a disability deserves immediate refunds – indeed, I know many who wouldn’t want them.  And I hate when someone with a disability uses it as a club to get what they want.  But I’m not sure that’s the case here –  the breaking of an assistive device should not be dismissed so lightly.

    However all that being said, I don’t think she deserves a full £6,000 refund.  Because I do wonder why Ms. Gray and her caregiver didn’t look into wheelchair rentals in Maui after discovering her chair was broken.  Such services are available – the first result for “maui wheelchair rental” leads me to the site I link to at the end of this paragraph – and they even meet you at the airport.  Ms. Gray might have paid a premium for a last minute rental, but the trip wouldn’t have been ruined. 

    While Ms. Gray’s variety of MS is, without doubt, severe, there are patients with her diagnosis who can be mobile in manual wheelchairs with the help of their caregiver.  Not as easy, to be certain, but mobile. A motorized scooter or wheelchair is a godsend to MS patients – as they can conserve energy which helps slow the progression of MS and allows them more independence – but it is not always the default mobility assistive aid.

    The accessibility consultant in me is roaring for a better refund, though.  This isn’t an “oops, I tripped and sprained my ankle on the plane so now you need to fly me globally free for life” ow-ie.  This is an apparently serious mobility issue that is directly related to airline employee negligence. $500 on top of repairs is ludicrous, if only because the stress of the situation and forced increased mobility are NOT good for MS patients.  She actually has a case for emotional damage.

    My apologies if Ms. Gray is completely wheelchair-bound – some MS patients are, so the suggestion for a rental is inappropriate if that is the case. (Because using a rental wheelchair can be off-putting – they are very personal items, much like a prosthesis.)  But I am curious why she couldn’t have said “it’s a once in a lifetime trip, so I’ll settle for a once in a lifetime rental wheelchair while my best one isn’t working.”

    ETA – I did mean using a chair not as a full-time solution, as her chair had partial working ability. I meant if she had excursions she couldn’t reach with her regular chair for a few hours.

  25. “…she asked her travel agent for information about how to travel with her wheelchair, and was told the necessary arrangements could be made.”

    So…who made the arrangements?  The travel agent?  Then make a claim against the agent.

    So who put the special care requirements in writing?  When were these special shipping arrangements delivered to the airline personnel.?

    If this were my very special electronic wheelchair, I would have made six copies of the shipping-care instructions and given it to each airline upon surrender of the chair.  They could have taped the care sheet to the chair itself.

    You cannot assume oral instructions are passed on.

    No mediation.  More prudent preventative actions could have been taken

    1. Actually, no special arrangements would really have been needed to be made.  There is a law called the Air Carrier Accessibility Act.

      Scroll down – wheelchairs take precedence.  The only special arrangement that might have needed to be made was if the chair was oversized and needed to be taken apart to fit in smaller space.  But I doubt a flight from California to Maui would be on a small plane where this was necessary.

      1. Jane  “depends on a customized wheelchair to get around,”  and “the chair was not correctly stored in the hold.”

        Sounds to me like something very expensive with special handling requirements.  She is travelling to a foreign country, and does not know the laws much less the conformity to same.  People are not properly trained and make mistakes every day.  Protect yourself.  Give explicit instructions.  

        Proactive protection is much preferred over reactive anger and disappointment.  Screw the laws on the books.  Look out for yourself in a prudent manner.  The government is not going to take care of your every need.  You must first help yourself to a satisfactory outcome.  

        To say no special directions should have been given is to invite disaster.  If you are not explicit, then you are relying on the employees to implicitly understand something.

        1. But then what is the point of having a law if not to be enforced?  Yes, she might have taken special precautions, but she shouldn’t have had to.  Since there is a law on the books that special care needs to be given to wheelchairs, then she has a claim for damages that resulted from the actions of neglegent handlers.  Damages include not only repair to the chair, but also the restrictions placed on her during her trip due to the inaccessability.  I don’t feel that she is entitled to a full refund of the trip, but I do feel that $500 is not nearly enough.

  26. Why I voted no

    I’m sure I am just as compassionate as most people are when it comes to giving up my seat on the bus, train or airplane to a handicapped person. But this is NOT a case of compassion, this is an issue of cargo handling.

    For a simple understanding of the problem I suggest you read this one-page pamphlet.

    As you can see, these battery-operated (mechanized) wheelchairs can weigh upwards of 250 lbs. In addition, these power chairs are big and bulky. I have attached a picture of a 757 cargo hold. Now go figure how difficult it will be to haul one of these power chairs and load them UPRIGHT in the cargo hold. You will need two strong cargo handlers to put the chair on a conveyor belt. But how do you expect ONE PERSON inside the hold to handle this monster ??? Do you expect the cargo handler to break his or her back for your wheelchair ???
    These behemoths need special handling. IMO unless you can put then in a belly container (ULD) which fits a wider aircraft, then do not expect them to survive the regular (bulk) baggage handling process (without a protective case).

    Picture courtesy of Flick:

    1. TonyA –

      You’re right – it’s not an issue of compassion.  It’s an issue of Cargo Handling.  Mobility Aid and Assistive Device Cargo Handling to be specific..  Which is part of the Air Carrier Accessibility Act.

      Scroll down to “Handling of Mobility Aids and Assistive Devices”.  This is something the airlines are supposed to be prepared to do. They are even allowed to disassemble reassemble oversized chairs necessary.

      This should be SOP.  But like many accessibility laws, a lot of them are skimped on.

      1. I highly recommend you (simply) read the law – 14 CFR Part 382.  I have quoted from Part 382 many times in this forum.

        To be specific read:
        § 382.41 Stowage of personal equipment. And,
        § 382.43 Treatment of mobility aids and assistive devices.

        Okay so there are a LOT OF LAWS and RULES made by Washington folks who probably never worked a day at the ramp. The net effect — broken wheelchairs.

        You can make all the rules you want but how the hell do I fit a huge, 350 lb. wheelchair in the belly of a 737 when I have only less than 2 hours to unload and load everything in that belly. Here is what you will likely hear from a cargo handler — Good luck to you but your freaking wheelchair is not more important than MY BACK !!!

        1. Isn’t it the airlines’ responsibility to figure out how to obey the law without breaking either the wheelchair or the baggage handler’s back?

          If we’re going to be hard-nosed about holding passengers to the letter of the CoC (even when it seems unfair), then shouldn’t we be at least equally as hard-nosed about holding the carriers to the letter of the law (even when you believe the law is unfair to them)?

          1. Sure, didn’t they repair it. That’s their responsibility. But guess who didn’t get to use their favorite wheelchair while it was broke? Hopefully, you see my point. If you try to fit an elephant in that small hole, then you are gonna have a problem.

          2. “didn’t they repair it”

            Apparently not during the vacation.  The debate is about what you might call “loss of use” charges 😉

            And if the attitude of the carriers and the cargo handlers attitude is like what you described, then I would call that negligence.  

            Don’t get me wrong, the cargo handlers shouldn’t have to risk life or limb.  If the hold is too crowded, the law says the wheelchair takes priority over other (non-connecting) bags.  If the wheelchair is too heavy, then it’s the carrier’s responsibility to have either the right equipment or enough handlers to handle it with proper care.

          3. Why didn’t she rent one in Maui and send the airline the bill?

            Negligence ??? I don’t think so. I would like to see you handle one of this 300 lb wheelchairs on the ramp. (And, with handler wages and benefits today, they can’t afford being out of work because they broke their back).

            Bottom line, her wheelchair is TOO FRAGILE to survive typical airline baggage handling.

            BTW, my sister-in-law from California has MS (for many years now). She will be in our home next week so I do have an idea how MS sufferers cope with day to day events. I am picking her up at airport and I need to use our old SUV.

          4. I would like to see you handle one of this 300 lb wheelchairs on the ramp.  

            Re-read my comment.  Again, IMO, it’s the carrier’s responsibility to provide enough hands or the right mechanical equipment to handle a 300 lb wheelchair on the ramp .

            Several posters have explained why renting in Maui *might* have been a non-starter.

      2. The only requirement in the web page you keep posting is that they transport the chair ahead of other baggage (they did she’s not complaining it was late)and if the ydisassemble it that they put it back together (I don’t think that she claimed that they broke it disassembling it).

        She claims that it was broken because of how it was stowed. I don’t see any requirements in that regard on the site.

        If the chair is the vital to her movement, and I assume that it is, and is that sensitive to damage, based on her claim that it was broken because it was stored on its side, it is, then she should have taken steps to protect it which she did not.

        Anyone that has watched a plane loaded should know that items are manhandled. They are going to get roughed up. If you are transporting something that is fragile and can’t fly as a carry on, you need to protect it. She did not.

        Sorry its not reasonable to think an unprotected fragile item is going to make it through the baggage handling process unscathed.

        The airline paid to fix the damage to the chair, gave her a goodwill voucher and met all of the government requirements. They did enough

        1. she should have taken steps to protect it which she did not.

          “Before flying to Hawaii, she asked her travel agent for information about how to travel with her wheelchair”  <— That doesn't mean anything?

          I'm also skeptical that not disassembling a wheelchair exempts the carrier from this responsibility:

          You must return wheelchairs, other mobility aids, and other assistive devices to the passenger in the condition in which you received them.

          Note also that this “unprotected fragile item” presumably made it safely through a few other segments before and after the one on which it was damaged.

          1. Her TA said arrangements could be made.  Were they made?  Did the OP decide not to get a protective carrier?

          2. All we know is “that didn’t happen” (which reads to me like it was an unpleasant surprise).

          3. @Michael_K:disqus The airline accepted full responsibility for the damage.

            Talking to your travel agent doesn’t equate to putting foam rubber on fragile controls or putting the wheel chair in a protective crate. As I said, anyone who has watched a plane get loaded should realize that things are going to roughed up.

            Just because the crystal vase made ti through once does mean that the plane won’t hit turbulance on trip 2

          4. You’re assuming she didn’t take steps to protect it.  She got professional advice.

    2.  CORRECTION: This picture I provided is for a 757. This would be a typical equipment for ALASKA AIR CODESHARE only. For an Alaska Air operated flight, it would likely have been a 737.

      Note that the lower cargo hold door of a 737 is either 33 or 35 x 48 inches only. The 757 cargo doors are 55 x 42.5 and 45 inches. In other words, the 737 has smaller doors (than the picture).

  27. If the OP was ‘connecting’ to Maui in CA, she flew into the US on another carrier as AS doesn’t fly from the UK.   How does the OP know that the other carrier didn’t damage her chair?  I am finding this a bit confusing and wondering why the other carrier isn’t being mentioned.  Did she layover before heading to Hawaii?

    FYI:If you are traveling and are going to taking special medical equipment, such as a chair of this type, or special meds you should do your homework before hand to know of companies, their contacts, addresses to where you will be in the areas you will be visiting should you need assistance with the item(s).  Things do happen and at least having the information in hand will help expedite things to get you back to your trip/vacation.  Also, email the company ahead of time if possible to find out how to handle any, in case ofs. I have had many clients with special needs know in advance of their travels know who to call and how to handle things should the need arise.

    1. How does the OP know that the other carrier didn’t damage her chair?

      I suspect she used the wheelchair at the connection point(s).

        1. Why would the airline agree to pay for damages caused by someone else?  If they were certain enough they were to blame to cover the damages, it seems like that point is closed.

          1. The interesting thing is that she doesn’t mention that the chair was fine upon arrival in CA, since she has to go through customs in the first arrival point and would have used the chair to do this.  I realize this makes the most sense, but this detail nags at me.

      1. Yes, she stated it happened from CA, but did she use the chair to go through customs then gate checked it again?  All that is mentioned is that she saw it coming out of hold in OGG.

  28. “If Alaska coughs up £6,000, then it will set a precedent, and anyone who loses a day of work because of a flight delay or has their golf vacation ruined because the airline lost their clubs, will be able to make a similar claim.”

    Uh, I beg to differ, Chris.  The only people who “will be able to make a similar claim” will be those whose wheelchairs are smashed to bits by Alaska’s negligence.  How frequently does this happen, one wonders?  Hopefully not too often! 

    I’m frankly shocked by the number of callous comments on this one.  I have never been in a wheelchair in my life, thank God! so I base my comment not on personal experience, but on logic: anyone who feels that merely reading this column somehow gives him sufficient knowledge to conclude definitively that the OP’s wheelchair worked “enough,” and that’s good enough, should watch out if he’s ever the defendant in a civil suit.  Just pull that sort of arrogant line of defense in the courtroom, and when the judge stops laughing, he’ll hand the plaintiff the judgment of his dreams…

  29. No way! The key give was “causing great misery knowing the entire trip had become pointless” indicating a complete gimmie-pig. She didn’t pay Alaska Air all that money, she only paid them for a plane ticket. If I take a taxi to a cruise and the my bag is in the trunk of the taxi and the taxi hits a bump and ruins my digital camera, I can’t go after them for the $10,000 cruise because they broke my camera and my trip became pointless without a camera. The world is unbelievably entitled. Mistakes happen, and when they do, there are protections in place, like the limits of liability. Why didn’t she call her insurance company? If the chair was that valuable surely she’d have it insured which would assure fast replacement, or a second one at home that could be replaced. If I relied on a chair, u better believe I’d have a backup. But hey, sounds like she wants something for nothing.

    1.  Hmmm.

      The OP is out $12,000.00 which I assume is real money to her.  If I’d effectively wasted that much money, I’d be in great anguish as well.

      But you need to read closer.  She lives in Wales. She’s vacationing in Hawaii.  How easy to you think it is to fix as British custom wheelchair. Probably easy in the UK.  Probably not so easy in the US.

      Are you serious that she should have a spare at home? To do what with?  Ship from Wales to Hawaii.  In time to be used for the vacation?

      According to Tony, it weights 250 lbs.

      I had to overnight some documents from California to Paris.  $75.00 for letter rate and even then it took 2-3 days.  I shudder to think what it would cost to ship a 250lbs wheelchair even further.

      1. As part of the airline ticket – no charge for such – just can check or book as cargo – properly contained, that would have been my option.

          1. ??? Not TALKING about the replacement chair, but the ORIGINAL one – I have had to book a client’s special chair as such for them, and contact the airlines’ medical desk to ensure they were aware of her extreme needs for the connecting flights.

          2. You and I have no idea what each other are talking about.  My post is in response to  Andrew Bells’ suggestion that that one of the things the OP could have done to proactively salvage the vacation is to have a replacement, customized chair at home.  I suggested that makes no sense for the reasons already articulated. 

            I have no idea what part of my post you’re are replying to.

  30. I am truly befuddled by the comments here.  I am guardedly optimistic that its a lack of close reading by many.

    In order

    She asked her travel agent about making special arrangements
    for her custom wheelchair.  The travel
    agent replied that arrangements “could” be made.  I think we are wordsmithing too much by
    distinguishing between could, would, and have been.   If the OP didn’t have the arrangements made she
    almost certainly wouldn’t have mentioned it.

    It is reasonable for the OP to rely upon her travel agent
    and the fact that the airline accepted the wheelchair for travel.  Speculating how the airline damaged the
    wheelchair is pointless.  She gave them a
    working wheelchair, they returned a broken one. 
    It’s no different than a car rental. 
    The company rents you a scratch free car, you return it with a scratch,
    you’re liable, doesn’t matter how the scratch happened.  Speculating is pointless.

    The OP states that a regular wheelchair doesn’t work for
    her.  I don’t know her specific medical
    history, and even if I did, I’m not a medical doctor, so why in the world would
    I second guess her.  She’s the one who
    lives with this day to day.  I suspect
    that if a regular wheelchair worked, she would have rented that, enjoyed her
    vacation, and asked for reimbursement of the rental cost.

    The question as to whether the OP has a legal leg to stand
    on is irrelevant.  If law were this
    issue, she’d be talking to an attorney. 
    This is about what’s right. 
    Consumer advocates (including BBB, Consumer’s Reports, etc) have the
    bully pulpit power to inform other consumers about the business practices of
    the companies that we do business with. 
    And perhaps, we would rather do business with companies that treat their
    customers well, instead of acting on the lowest common denominator, i.e. merely
    what the law requires.

    Discussions of precedent in this blog have been uniformly
    and legally wrong.  A precedent in a
    contractual sense generally occurs in one situation., when “A” routinely waives
    a contractual obligation of “B”, “B” may possibly consider the terms of the
    contract changed.  However, a third party
    cannot assert precedent unless “A” routines waives obligation for everyone.

    Finally comparing a wheelchair to a set of golf clubs is well…sad.


  31. Wow, I give up today.

    It isn’t about compassion, it isn’t about “well, what did she expect?”  It’s about understanding that people in wheelchairs rarely have a choice about being in them.  And that what you take for granted or consider a minor inconvenience as an abled individual can be an almost insurmountable problem for the disabled.

    Laws protecting the rights of the disabled have had to be passed because many businesses consider them unnecessary – it’s only a small market segment they’re alienating, so hey, fine.  (Hell, Target spent several exponential levels more in time and money on an accessibility lawsuit against their website than it would have cost to fix the problem.)   And those laws still aren’t enough to protect.  Because so many people are willing to say, hey, fine, and punishments aren’t doled out.

    Yes, it’s an inconvenience to baggage handlers and others in the travel industry to have someone who doesn’t fit in the standard room or seat, or who has cargo instead of luggage.  But what’s an ephemeral inconvenience to them, is a permanent logistical challenge to those in these chairs.  And those people should not be doomed to a narrow, unexplored life because someone doesn’t want to be inconvenienced.

    Get in a chair.  See the world from a lower angle.

    1. I have been in a wheelchair and have a child with walking issues.  I am understanding to a point.  Did she do her homework BEFORE she left to know how she might deal with an issue with her chair?  I have assisted  my clients with this for that ‘just in case’ situation.  Stuff happens and if you travel, YOU better know how you might have to handle it.   A TA can provide the carrier with the information but nobody can control the actual handling.  I seem to be missing where she reported the problem to the carrier.  Was it at the airport?

    2.  I think you’re again confusing two points.  Yes, life is harder in a wheelchair.  We all know this. 

      But the airline didn’t put the OP in a wheelchair.

      They did something that, ostensibly, made the device more uncomfortable to use after either one hour or several hours, depending on which of the OP’s two quotes you want to use. 

      Perhaps in hindsight, since the entire vacation was ruined, it would have been best for Alaska to send her immediately back home along with a voucher so she wouldn’t be “miserable” in Hawaii wasting her vacation time.  For some reason, I don’t think that would have been acceptable either.

    3. Chasmosaur:

      Obviously, you’re very passionate about this cause, which is great.

      You mention the law about how to treat the disabled. The airlines responded in kind, ie. what they legally needed to do (and then a little more).

      But obviously, this case has a “do what’s right, not just what’s legally required” aspect, so I’m trying to be practical as well, going beyond the law (because if it were only a legal issue, the airline most likely didn’t comply and they are compensating what the law requires). My only point (and I think what most others are saying) is that in the real world, sometimes being prudent above and beyond what is required, is a good idea. Did her vacation get screwed? YES. Did the airline screw up? YES. Could she have done a little more as a safeguard? PROBABLY. Was she legally required to? NO. But would it have helped the outcome? MAYBE.

      Had she done that, I think most of us would also be clamoring for her getting more than what has been offered.

      1.  James. some people want 100% guarantees, If the airline can’t guarantee that it won’t crash then how can it guarantee the wheelchair will arrive unscratched. Sh*t happens. That’s why there is the Montreal Convention for international flights – to cap liabilities of the airline when sh*t happens.

        1. Since she’s asking for more than what is legally required, I’d like to know that she also did more than what was required (which was rely on the Disabilities Act). As others have suggested: signs, protective case, ensure generous connection times, had her agent find out about cargo restrictions, etc. so her chair could’ve been loaded properly, etc. The text simply says, “That didn’t happen”. Does that mean that both the OP and the agent forgot to follow up? Or something else?  If I knew that she did everything in her power and AS still screwed up, I’d be much more amenable to her getting more than what’s been offered.

          My take is this: Say AS reimburses her entire trip. How does that help her the next time she takes a trip? Say this whole scenario is replayed. The chair gets damaged. She loses out on a vacation. She gets reimbursed. I’m sure she’d much rather enjoy the vacation. That’s all I’m trying to say. I don’t want her to stop traveling, but I would like for her to be able to travel with her chair. Relying on the airlines / baggage handlers (despite the laws) does not seem like a viable solution. Despite some rather emotionally charged rebuttals, that’s what I mean by being proactive. What can be done to avoid this from happening again? If the answer is: get the airlines to train all their personnel better, install construction lifts, etc. I don’t think that’s going to happen. Unfortunately, the onus will still remain squarely on the user.

          1. I think that is Monday morning quarterbacking.  Trying to put myself in the OPs shows.  I ask my TA what is required to transport my  wheelchair.  Presumably she complies with the travel agents directive.  The airline accepts the wheelchair for transport.  I think it is unfair to ask her to do more than the TA recommended.

            You can always do more.  I can also drive around in a Sherman Tank.  The question is what is reasonable under the circumstances.

            I say the OPs actions were reasonable under the circumstances.

    4. I too sympathize with the OP, and ideally in the perfect world, baggage handlers would see a wheelchair and treat it with the utmost respect.  However, in reality, ground airline employees are incentivized to turn aircraft around fast – especially for the discount carriers.  Aircraft don’t generate revenue sitting on the ground.  Common sense dictates that anything going out of your control and getting stowed beneath your feet should be considered replaceable since it is cheaper for all airlines to turn aircraft around as quickly as possible and pay for damages later (that’s why they have insurance).  Quite frankly, considering the crucial nature of this wheelchair, someone (either her, her care-giver, or the travel agent) should have planned for this scenario in the beginning (what if my wheelchair gets broken?  what if sand on a HI beach grinds the motor to a halt?  what if it starts raining while i’m out and the motor gets wet?)

      Just thinking out of the box, if you are investing $9K+ on a vacation, did you consider alternates like:
      – Transporting the wheelchair by freight and making alternate arrangements for transporting yourself?  UPS and FedEx fly to HI daily
      – A cruise on Cunard’s Queen Elizabeth from Southhampton to LA?  That way, your wheelchair goes with you and you hit a bunch of other destinations in the Pacific in addition to Hawaii… all for about 20% more
      – Private transportation, via NetJets or some other means (significantly more expensive, but far less likely to damage previous cargo)

        1. Carver, think about what you just said or ask. If UPS wants $1K to move that thing, then why are we asking the airline to move it for FREE. That’s exactly what the law is asking them to do. Since we all know moving big stuff is not compatible with moving people, then the airline is put into a DISADVANTAGE when being forced to deal with these heavy and bulky stuff. It’s a no win for the passenger airlines so you won’t find an easy solution.

          1. Tony, it’s a moral judgement that’s been codified in the ADA.  That (for example) the 1 in 2,000 or so people among us who rely on motorized wheelchairs deserve the same level of access to facilities as the rest of us.  And sometimes this means that 1,999 out of 2,000 of us pay slightly more to cover some extra costs to accomplish that.

            Don’t forget BTW that you suggested that the passenger invest $1K+ to protect the wheelchair in a 55 lb. container which would add considerable bulk and difficulties to the airline’s and baggage handlers’ task 😉

          2. So do my nice suitcases that protect my clothes and gear. I must have a few $K invested in luggage. No one forced me to buy them. I just want clean clothes and working electronics when I get to my destination.

            I think you miss my point. The (passenger) airlines have no incentive to create an effective system to move 450lb scooters if they don’t get paid for it. So you live with the system they have now. You get what you pay for.

          3. Their incentive is the law (which perhaps needs more teeth).  And I would expect them to pass the costs on to consumers.

          4. They’re not moving it for free.  Its part of the ticket that the OP purchased.  And as Michael_K states, its part of the law and I expect them to follow it.  Accomodating handicapped folks is always expensive, and probably rarely worth it on a business level, but its part of the moral judgment that we, as Americans, have made, and as Michael_K further correctly states, the cost is passed along to other customers.

            I for one am happy to pay for those costs. 

          5.  A typical pax will pay $25/$35 for the first and second (max 50 lbs) luggage. So they do pay an ave. of $60 for the first 100 lbs of check in luggage. A handicapped person can check-in a 450 lb. mobility device for FREE. As far as I know their tickets cost the same. So they essentially got free CARGO. A 450 lb. object is definitely cargo regardless of what you want to call it.

          6.  My mom is in an electric scooter.  She cannot get around without it.  I live in Japan.  She has visited me in Japan.  Should she NOT visit me because she can’t walk?  No, she should visit, because the law (which applies to US carries) says she gets accessible accommodations.  Her scooter IS NOT LUGGAGE.  It is essentially PART of her now.  Luggage is OPTIONAL on a flight.  No one is forcing anyone to bring ANYTHING with them on a plane.  So yes, wheelchairs and the like SHOULD be transported at no additional cost.  Like others have said, we have made a moral decision to provide as good a quality of life to disabled people as possible.  That includes allowing them to do things like travel!  And they shouldn’t have to pay an additional fee for something that is essentially an extension of their body.  Other people have stood up for the OP and I have to say, it’s absolutely true, no one has any idea what it’s like to be disabled until you are or until you’ve closely dealt with someone who is (and I’m not picking on you, Tony, for this point, even if it seems like I am).

          7. Shannon, please understand, I have nothing against handicapped people. I stated earlier that my sister-in-law has MS, too. My aunt is severely autistic. Also, several older relatives have Alzheimer’s and are in wheelchairs and are wheeled around by private nurses.

            My comments come from my own observations, having worked with the passenger and the cargo side of airlines. In my opinion words are cheap. I do not think the Air Carrier Access Act adequately addresses the issues involved with traveling with heavy and bulky powered wheelchairs. I don’t think highly of decrees or dogma. I am more concerned about where the rubber meets the road – real situations. Broken Wheelchairs. If you want to resolve this issue then you need better engineering and processes. I am pointing out that the law does not dangle a carrot but just a stick. That might work in the USSR but not in the USA.

  32. Wa-wa-wa-wa-wa-wa-wa-wa! That’s what I’m hearing, and I’m sure it’s what Alaska heard, too. The OP was “actually able to witness” her chair “come out of the hold in bits”?! Wow. Must have been some severe turbulence on that flight. And I was shocked, SHOCKED, to find out that there are apparently no decent chairs available for rent in Maui! It sounds as if, from the moment Ms. Gray saw her chair coming out of the hold “in bits”, she was determined to have a miserable time… and did!  Stick to your guns, Alaska. You’ve offered enough. 

  33. This is a tough one for me.  I am quick to say people should be pro-active, and people should mitigate their damages.  But people with disabilities don’t always have that option.
    I have a former co-worker and still friend, who has cerebral palsy.  He has a custom chair, and that chair is his life.  He cannot do anything without it.  It is shaped to the way his body contorts, has a seat that inflates and deflates in certain places specific to his body, and reclines at prescribed angles to reduce clot risk.   Its controls are custom build based on the little movement he is able to do.  He could not use a rental chair, it is not possible.  People with advanced MS are in a very similar situation.  It’s not just a matter of being uncomfortable in a rental chair, people with advanced debilitating motor control cannot sit in or operate a rental chair period.  It does not work for them and it is dangerous.
    It’s easy to say put copies of handling instructions everywhere, but the OP may not be able to write instructions, or make copies.  She may only be able to give verbal instructions and is then dependent on others to help her.  If her chair stops working after 2 hours, she can’t really do much more than barely leave the hotel.  Even with her caretaker, if the chair stops, she is stranded.  
    Everyone keeps asking what she should have done?  Well the answer is nothing.  She most likely could not use a rental chair.  She most likely could not have made more signs and handling instructions, she was at the airlines mercy.  I hope she tried to make the best of her situation, and saw what she could form the hotel.  But there is really nothing she could have done to prevent her chair from breaking either due to mishandling or not. My first thought was that she should have shipped her chair, but again, in my friends case, he could not walk or move without his.  He could not get to or go through the airport without it, so shipping may not be an option. And how would she move through the airport with a shipping crate?
    What does my friend do?   He won’t travel.  He refuses to do anything that may part him from his chair aside from going to be where a caretaker puts him in bed.  I feel badly for him, and I commend the OP for taking the risk of traveling with such a debilitating condition.  That is more adventurous that I think I would be in her situation. 
    It is very unfortunate what happened.  I don’t know if the airline could have prevented it, and I don’t know if her lack of being able to participate on her vacation would pass the legal “Reasonably foreseeable” test.  Many people whine about their vacations being ruined, but I think this may be one if these cases where that is a plausible argument. I think what happened is unfortunate, but I am not sure if the airline is, or should be held responsible for her entire vacation.  Sometimes stuff happens.  And someone who has a disability is in a much worse place when that stuff does happen.  As for mediating, I had to vote no.  I want to vote yes, but I think legally the airline did more than they legally had to do, and it sounds like they are done.  Should they do more? I would hope so, but I also would not expect it.

    1. Then why wouldn’t you vote yes?  Just because you don’t expect it does not mean it cannot be done.  Especially after you went into such detail about the importance of a custom power chair.
      Do you not think it is worth Chris’s time?

      1. Because I am not sure if the airline can be or should be held responsible for her entire vacation, and because the airline already did more than they are required to do. Also, I don’t know what would be fare, 100% of the vacation, $500 and repair?  It’s hard to put a value on a vacation that did occur, though did not occur very well.  The airline already made it clear they will not budge, and I am surprised they gave as much as they have, so like I said, I think it’s a very unfortunate situation, but I think mediating it will result in nothing more than the OP being let down again.

        1. As someone who negotiates for a living, just because someone says no at the beginning is hardly a reason not to negotiate. Opposing counsel always says, this is our final offer.  Yet the settlement is many times greater that the so-called “first and final” offer

          The airline isn’t legally responsible, but I think that the right thing for them to do is  give her vouchers for another flight as well as pay for her hotel.  Those are easily quantifiable numbers.

          1. Since it’s not my money, I’d go along with that… If it were my money, I’d offer a free flight. (But since she probably can’t travel alone, does that mean a re-do for two?)

  34. “Who will compensate me for the distress and misery caused by the damage to my chair and the serious consequences of this, both emotional and physical?” she asks.”  

     I have travelled domestically and internationally with teams of disabled athletes for years.  The problems we have had with careless handling of chairs are legion.  It’s a horrible situation, but until the people actually doing the job of stowing the chairs REALLY understand what life is like for someone who uses a wheelchair the problems will continue. 

    Nobody should be forced to compensate a traveller for distress and misery, it’s too difficult to ascertain responsibility in every case and travel providors would be forced to hire huge numbers of people to figure out every “claim”.   We would all then pay more for every aspect of a trip. Travel is very stressful in many ways.  The traveller must take responsibility for putting the chair back to it’s useful role as quickly as possible, she cannot expect someone else to compensate her for the distress.

  35. Did she have insurance? Why did she not get another chair in Maui? If she paid 6,000 euros for a trip to Maui, I am sure that a wheelchair to fit her needs should have been reasonably easy to obtain and complete 80% of her travel. Alaska airlines as any airline will only pay so much.

    1. Did she have insurance

      Please explain how travel insurance would help travelers like the OP who depend on assistive devices.

      Access America/Allianz specifically excludes wheelchairs.

      I can’t readily find any policy from any company that includes a Covered Reason that corresponds to the breakdown or damage of an assistive device.

      [The ubiquitous USA insurers like Travel Guard and Allianz wouldn’t even be an option for UK residents like the OP.  But even looking at the Covered Reasons on the premium policy of a UK insurer like InsureAndGo, I fail to see any Covered Reason that would apply].

      1. But I’m wondering how hard she looked.  There is a wonderful company called Gammie in Hawaii, and they have a few more “personalized” chairs for rental – I always keep them in mind as a backup for my clients.  It may not have been quite as nice as her own, but would have given her a bit more mobility, and then she could have gone to Alaska air to foot the bill.  (Its what I would have done!)

        1. Not necessarily.  She stated that she requires a certain custom wheelchair to operate more than an hour.  Since its her life, I can’t see myself second guessing her unless I had some expertise in wheel chair dynamics.

  36. I’d start a lawsuit. Costs about $200 to have a lawyer write the letter informing the airline to either make restitution in the amount required or the case will go to court. Reckon there are scads of attorneys out there who would love to take one like this. Little push on a blog and FB and zoom, it could very well take off!

  37. I, too, am torn in this case.  I’m normally not all that sympathetic to “compassion” claims, especially where the complaining party invokes the dreaded “emotional distress” clause.  However, this case is unique.

    I’ve never been in a wheelchair, but my dad is a home dialysis patient, and has to travel around with this big bulky machine wherever he goes.  If an airline were to destroy his machine, his vacation WOULD be ruined.  He would basically become immobile after 3 or 4 days, maybe a week.  The only choice would be either to return home, or hope there’s a dialysis clinic nearby so he can at least get treatment each day (though that would still entail wasting a good half a day each day).  When dad comes on a trip, we either drive so we can control how the machine is packed, or if he has to fly, it goes in a protective case.  Thankfully, a dialysis machine is heavy, but not as big as a motorized wheelchair, so even with the case, it can go in a cargo hold without much trouble.  It sounds like a case may or may not have been feasible in this case given the dimensions of the chair.

    Could Ms. Gray have done anything different?  I honestly don’t know.  Maybe she could have bought a case for her wheelchair, but it sounds like that might not have done much good due to the size of her chair.  Maybe she could have tried getting the chair fixed in Hawai’i the first day or two she was there, but I have no clue what kind of facilities are available there to do that.  I would be curious to know what, if anything, she did to try and rectify the situation there (personally, if it were me, I would have pressured Alaska to find me a place to get my chair fixed ASAP, at their expense).

    Also, Chris, I have to take exception with your comment about setting a
    precedent.  This isn’t the same as a run-of-the-mill medical condition,
    or losing a set of golf clubs or something.  I seriously doubt there are
    a ton of folks out there with advanced stage MS or something equally
    serious that are going to be similarly situated to Ms. Gray.  This truly
    is an exceptional case without any real comparables.

    But at the end of the day, I think even if you do try to mediate, it’s going to be a waste of your time.  If I were in charge, I would probably give her the money back that she’s asking for.  But I don’t see Alaska budging on this one.

  38. I see the difference between having to rent golf clubs and losing nearly all independence.    I think Alaska needs to do more.   

  39. @Michael__K:disqus  @Lindabator:disqus
    According to Haseltine:
    What planes can take the Haseltine Flyer?
    Most of the planes that can accommodate the motorized chair can take the carrier. Particularly the large jets, the 747, DC10, 777,757 etc.
    However, the smaller jets, the DC80’s and 737 have difficulty loading
    them. When the chairs are loaded they can often be shifted back and
    forth so that they are dragged through the opening of the cargo bay.
    Some of the cargo bay doors will not accommodate the rigid containers,
    so that the airlines cannot load the chair into the cargo bay.

    OK, last time I checked Alaska Air flew 737s.
    So there you go. Next time use a TA like Linda since she knows what a Haseltine is. I am sure she will find a flight to OGG on a 757 or larger. 🙂

    1. It seems you’re assuming that the OP chose the wrong TA.  


      (a) is a bit presumptuous without knowing the details of the TA’s inquiries and the OP’s needs and limitations.    For example, you haven’t addressed questions (2) & (3) which I posed here:


      (b) isn’t fair to the OP.  Fact is she sought and received professional advice.   Unless she ignored the advice she was given, I think she deserves better.

      1.  Michael_K I suggest you read this for a dose of reality —

        It is a well known problem that cannot be solved by law or finger pointing. We are now bumping to the limits of size and weight. That’s an ENGINEERING problem. I don’t think it’s safe to ask people to lift 350 lbs just because the they need to help a handicapped person. You need a forklift to handle this kind of weight.

        Seems to me the OP’s powered wheelchair was also FRAGILE (not just heavy and big).

        1. Most of those engineering problems seem eminently solvable.  That summary was prepared in 2006.  What efforts have been made since that time?  Is this just not a priority?  If not, why not?

          1. Airlines indicate that although they do have to repair and replace damaged chairs and that they do have some workmen’s compensation issues do(sic) to lifting and handling heavy chairs, it is not a large cost in the scheme of things.  This means that for solutions to be attractive they must either be inexpensive or there must be some other strong reason for their implementation.

            Sounds like:

            1) We shouldn’t feel too sorry for the carriers when they have to pay up in a case like this, because they’ve saved plenty in up front costs by taking some shortcuts.


            2) More rules — carrots and sticks — if they are well thought out —  might actually help.

          2. Apparently the carriers prefer to pay out the worker’s comp claims and pay for the damaged chairs than to invest in a 21st century solution…

          3. The solution is simple – have lifting equipment on hand for these situations.  This is not revolutionary.  The construction industry uses it all the time. 

          4.  And then what? Once the heavy object gets on top of the conveyor, how do you maneuver it inside the lower cargo hold that’s about 4 feet high maximum and curved at both sides? You need very strong midgets unless you have rollers on the floor.

            Of course you really have not thought about a belt sort since the heavy object has to be interconnected between flights. Normally the belt is designed to handle 70 lbs (maybe 100 lbs max). The bottom line is that heavy stuff usually move in pallets or containers and not by bulk loading.

          5. @TonyA_says:disqus  
            And then what? Once the heavy object gets on top of the conveyor…

            Quick off the cuff answer: Either require that the wheelchair is in manual mode so it can be rolled or use a dolly. 

            If they can clamp/tie it on a bus, then it should be do-able on a plane.

        2. If we can routinely load these wheelchairs safely onto a ~$500k public bus, then I imagine we can figure out a way to load these wheelchairs safely into the cargo hold of a ~$500MM aircraft.

          1. Just trying to add a dose of reality here. People complain too much about the airline system without realizing how old the system is (Including the FAA). Even my GDS is still on the old IBM mainframe.

          2. NYC has had wheelchair accessible buses for 30 years (100% wheelchair accessible fleet for 20 years).  I thought private industry was supposed to modernize faster than government…

          3.  Tax money

            As I recall, it wasn’t exactly voluntary at first.  It was a matter of complying with court rulings. 

            Figuring it out how to pay for it (fare increases vs. tax dollars) was secondary.

    2. Thanks!  (AND yes, sometimes that meant a longer layover, or a slightly higher fare, but my clients couldn’t complain – they had their mobility).  I do feel very sorry for this client, but Alaska did repair her chair, AND gave her $500 (which was probably the cost of the entire airline ticket).  Perhaps if she HAD rented another chair during her stay, they would go further and reimburse her, but to ask them to cover an entire vacation is too much.  I know this is one of those “special circumstances” but those are the reasons FOR the limitations in the Montreal Convention in the first place.

  40. Come on.  This is not your typical “luggage” – it’s a highly specialized piece of medical equipment, and anyone with half a brain could see that.  Damage to it could also be anticipated as causing its owner great hardship.

    How about holding the airline to a – pretty basic – standard of care?  Here the traveler’s only means of locomotion was trashed by carelessness, and now the airline cops out by invoking its “rules”?

    I think she’s deserving of at least a refund of most, if not all, of her expenses.


  41. In addition to paying for the repair of her wheelchair, Alaska Airlines should have provided funds for a rental wheelchair for use during her vacation.  A rental may not have had all the magic buttons of the custom chair, but at least she could have enjoyed her vacation.

  42. This has been bothering me all day. 

    Ms. Gray was able to ride in airplanes the distance between England and Maui and back, in an airplane seat – decidedly less comfortable than her custom wheelchair, to be sure.  I’m still at a loss as to why she could not ride in a rented wheelchair with a headrest – the limiting factor as so many people have pointed out.  I get that rented wheelchairs aren’t as nice/comfortable/outfitted as her own wheelchair.  But neither are airplane seats. 

    Once on Maui with her *own* wheelchair, how as she planning on getting around?  Had to have some transportation lined up.  If taxi, she could have been driven to the point of interest and then be transferred to the rental chair.  If special rental van, same thing.  I don’t see her transportation/sightseeing options as more limited with a rental chair than with her own chair.  See previous paragraph as to her being able to tolerate a rental chair for a period of time, although more limited than in her own chair.

    I don’t feel that Alaska Airlines owes her the full cost of her vacation.  If they really wanted to be nice, they could refund the cost of her flight, in addition to the repairs to her wheelchair. 

    1.  I don’t think that being able to sit in a stationary airline seat says anything about her ability to sit a moving wheelchair.  The other is that she only has about 1 hours of mobility in a regular wheelchair.

      As far as sightseeing being different, its like night and day. In her wheel chair she can go into buildings, malls, shopping centers, anyplace that is wheelchair accessible.  From a taxi or van all she can do is look from afar.

    2. Which, I think they did, with the $500 cash and repair costs.  I , too, don not understand why a local rental was NOT used.  Was it the OPs decision?  If so, why on earth should she expect her vacation REFUNDED?

    I am more than a bit bothered to read that it was the OP’s fault that her chair was damaged in transit and that her claim for reimbursement of her holiday costs is without basis. 
    I voted in favor of mediation for the simple reason that the OP entrusted her wheelchair to the care of Alaska Airlines and they did NOT take care of it.  It has been said that the airline was charged with getting the chair from point A to point B which they did.  Consequently, beyond paying for the repair of the chair, they have no further legal obligation to the OP. 
    Consider that the OP’s wheelchair arrived intact in CA all the way from England.  How is it that Alaska Airlines could not have taken it on its onward journey and delivered it safely to the OP at her destination?  Alaska could have refused to accept it on board but having accepted it, they assumed full responsibility for it. 
    Airlines are not only in the business of transporting people from place to place, they are also in the materials handling business.  They need to have proper procedures in place to ensure that they do not mishandle the property entrusted to them.  They need to be held responsible for the loss and inconvenience that they cause to their customers.  Every other mover of chattels maintains logistical procedures to minimize damage to their clients’ cargo.  Did Alaska Airlines secure the OP’s wheelchair in the cargo hold to avoid it being damaged?  From the damage it sustained, it is clear that they failed to do this. 
    This custom-made wheelchair cannot be considered in the same light as a suitcase.  If a suitcase had been damaged or lost, replacing the items would not be all that difficult.   The OP had no substitute for her chair.  This device was essential to her well being and without it, she was rendered immobile.  IMO Alaska Airlines is responsible for the OP’s lost vacation and she should be compensated for this.

    Chris, please mediate to cause Alaska to relent and agree to compensate the OP adequately for her loss.

  44. This lady’s chair is obviously her lifeline.  Would you remove the oxygen mask from someone who relies on it and tell them to breathe?  Her vacation and her chair were linked and without it, she had no vacation!!  Even another chair, unless it allowed her similar ambulatory options, would not do.  Alaska should reimburse her for hotel, comp the air, and repair the chair.  I am sure Alaska has the required insurance to cover this, whether they want to admit it or not.  With all the fees we pay, I am sure they can afford to pay.
    Why are we worried about setting a precedence if the premise is all wrong!Send a message to the airlines that when they take possession of our luggage, animals, whatever, they ARE responsible for unloading it in the same condition it was loaded and any additional inconvenience IS GOING TO COST YOU – THE AIRLINE.  

    Start hiring people who care about their jobs.  Pay them accordingly. Maybe they’ll keep costs down by doing a better job with our property. 

  45. Maybe to help make things more specific, Chris, what else did she pay for for her planned trip? Hotel room? Paid sightseeing tour? Anything?

  46. Lets look at this from another perspective – torts. 

    Assuming the airline was instructed in the proper stowage of this wheelchair – if they did not do it – it was gross negligence.  Gross negligence is not generally covered.

    Next – did the comply with the terms of the Montreal Convention – her WRITTEN PAPER ticket needs to have a notation upon it concerning the limit of liability for this item of baggage.

    I’m gonna bet that did not happen. 

    The Montreal Convention limits apply as long as the airline COMPLIES with the terms of the Convention.    I’d be willing to be they NEVER issue a paper ticket in these situations and never limit their liability . . . .

    Talk amongst yourselves . .

    1. Looking at the Part 382 regulations that TonyA referenced, it appears that the Montreal Convention liability limits for loss/damage already don’t apply in the USA for wheelchairs:

      § 382.131   Do baggage liability limits apply to mobility aids and other assistive devices?

      With respect to transportation to which 14 CFR Part 254 applies, the limits to liability for loss, damage, or delay concerning wheelchairs or other assistive devices provided in Part 254 do not apply. The basis for calculating the compensation for a lost, damaged, or destroyed wheelchair or other assistive device shall be the original purchase price of the device.

      The OP’s vacation costs are unfortunately another story.  I assume she would have to prove the gross negligence?

      1.  and therein lies the claim for consequential damages arising from the lack of any limitation on liability. 

        1. Can you clarify for us non-lawyers: are you saying that even without demonstrating negligence, this puts Alaska Air on the hook to compensate the OP for the consequences to her vacation stemming from not having a fully functional wheelchair?   How would that be calculated?

          1. I disagree with Joe that the airline is legally on the hook for consequential damages. 

            However, with respect to your question, negligence is merely one of many means of assessing liability.  Consider the car rental example.   You drive your rental car perfectly and someone rears ends you.  You are 100% in the right, no negligence.  You still owe the rental company for the damages to the car.  Of course, the other car driver should reimburse you.  However, if he is penniless, you’re still on the hook for the damages even though you weren’t negligent or at fault in any way.

  47. i admit i have not read the comments yet. that said, i don’t think i can vote either way.  when did Ms. Gray make the official report to Alaska? if it was immediately, then yes there is definitely a case. at the same time, i don’t feel a full reimbursement of her vacation is appropriate.

    i have always been told by my airline to see passengers’ wheelchairs as their legs.  literally, those are the person’s legs.  would you not react strongly if Ms. Gray’s legs were broken by Alaska Airlines?

  48. I don’t understand why another wheelchair couldn’t have been provided to her for the duration of her trip.  No, it wouldn’t have been customized for her, but I think Alaska should have, at the very very least, arranged for a chair rental for her.  I do think they owe her more than they’ve given her.

    1.  every been to Hawaii?  Not the biggest selection of anything –

      that said . . ..  they DO run an airline and could have gotten her a rental replacement in about 48 hours . . .

  49. It was stupid of them to mishandle the wheelchair, but people always do not listen when asked to do something.  In a store yesterday, I told the clerk to NOT put my credit card stripe near the demagnetizer.  Less than ten seconds later, she is moving it towards the demagnetizer.  They always do it every time.   I stopped her from doing it.   You can’t do so with a fragile wheelchair.  I don’t know what the solution is, but the common thing is to not listen and mishandle. 

    Was there no wheelchair rental place in all of Hawaii that could have supplied an MS suitable wheelchair?   I would have expected them to rent one for her during her trip, I don’t see this mentioned.

  50. Sorry for going somewhat off-topic here, but does anyone know of wheelchair rental and accessible vehicle rental (van with lift) in Las Vegas? Their chamber of commerce wasn’t any help.

    1. Hi Jen,
          Shame on the Chamber of Commerce. This was an easy one. I just went to, entered “wheelchair accessible vans las vegas”, and voila… 2.75 million hits.
          And while you’re at Google, do yourself a favor and download the Google toolbar. You’ll never have unanswered questions again. 🙂

    1. Carver, I suppose you are addressing this to me.
      Well any heavyweight object is CARGO. Who the hell brings a 450 lb object with them to Maui (or internationally)? How many travel agents do you know are trained to handle cargo. In fact the logistics of a power wheelchair is more complicated than ordinary cargo because it is fragile, has batteries, must be driven from check-in to the ramp, and must have super priority handling. Unfortunately bulk loading the belly of a 737 or smaller airplane with large and heavy objects is not necessarily efficient. But you and the general public expect it to be. The door (aft) of a 737 is still 33 x 48 inches regardless of what the Air Carrier Access Act says. Good luck to those who think you can have your oversized power wheelchair easily fit those doors.

      1. The traveler shouldn’t be responsible for knowing that.  She is covered by certain ADA laws.  They accepted her money and had an obligation to get her wheelchair there BY LAW.  If they couldn’t do it properly on that plane, they needed to get it there some other way instead of doing it improperly and damaging it. 

        1. I think you need to understand how the ACAA law is practiced by the airlines with regards to CHECKED POWER CHAIRS. If your wheelchair cannot fit the  cargo door, they will dismantle it and reassemble it for you at the final destination. So for as long as you give them INSTRUCTIONS about your unit, then they “can” do it accordingly.

          The OP’s wheelchair was transported according to law. But the law cannot prevent it from getting broken. My comments should be interpreted as — the airlines are ill equipped to handle very heavy and huge wheelchairs; therefore they get broken. So expect more wheelchairs to break, regardless of the law.

  51. The salient  point here seems to be that they DIDN’T fix the chair, if “fixing” means that they would have made it usable in the way it was meant to be used.

  52. I try so hard to be sympathetic in cases like this, but then they get to the “compensate me for my misery and emotional turmoil” and they lose me.  Alaska Airlines offered the OP what was fair. Don’t mediate.

  53. The bottom line is it’s all about the contract of carriage and compensation.  I would understand if she stayed in her hotel room for the rest of her trip but she didn’t.  She stated she can only tolerate the wheelchair for one hour at a time so essentially it was partly functional. 

  54. There is a reason for a custom-built wheelchair. I have
    three pressure sores on my back, and because the   chair was
    so severely damaged it impacted on my comfort thus limiting the amount of time.
    I was able to spend in the chair. No other replacement would have been
    suitable. As I need care, while I am away. I also hired   a nursing
    agency who took my blood pressure on arrival at the hotel and this is what they
     said ‘was found to be very high,
    194/104, also heart rate was high, 101. We attributed this to the recent
    arrival from air port ( with a broken wheel chair), and possibly being
    dehydrated.’they considered sending me to hospital but  due to the circumstances rest was the best

    had no contact from Alaskan airlines  until the Tuesday after we landed on  Saturday, the inappropriate wheelchairs were
    flown in on Thursday, we flew out  of
    Maui on Saturday. I was  to ld that an  in wheelchair repair was arranged for later
    that day, but he was unable to do a repair until Tuesday, and he apologised,
    saying that he could only jerry rig the repair as he did not have the right
    part .

    holiday was ruined. I am not whining, but I feel that I am entitled to what was

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