Duckworth has her revenge on lousy airline service

After having had her wheelchair trashed twice by sloppy handlers, the senator does what a senator can do: pass a law requiring public disclosure of airline baggage woes.

From time to time, most of us have problems with an airline, be it a canceled flight, lousy food, weather delays or a lovely middle seat when you were promised a window—and you couldn’t do much about it beyond bay at the moon.

Well, U.S. Sen. Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill., has a story for you. And while everyone can’t be elected a United States senator, you may be able to relate.

Duckworth, as most people know, is a double amputee, having lost both of her legs in the Iraq War. She can walk with crutches, but generally uses a wheelchair for longer trips. Except, that is, when her airline manages to trash the wheeled device.

Duckworth says such a thing has happened twice to her since she joined Congress, first as a representative and since 2016 as a senator. The most recent incident came last year when the airline—Duckworth didn’t say which—somehow broke a titanium rod that holds the wheelchair together.

“I don’t know how they did that. I didn’t think you could,” said Duckworth. But they did. And when she tried to sit in her wheelchair upon disembarking, “it collapsed beneath me. . . .I kind of hauled myself and was dragged to the waiting area,” where she sat until an inadequate replacement was found for her motorized chair.

Now, Duckworth is not the only wheelchair user to run into this problem. In fact, in the late days of the Obama administration, the U.S. Department of Transportation actually unveiled a proposed rule requiring carriers to publicly disclose data about how often such damage or entire losses of wheelchairs occur, to let flyers know in advance what their odds of finding truly friendly skies are. But the Trump administration sat on the measure.

Until Duckworth’s incident, that is. She drafted legislation that was included in the new Federal Aviation Administration authorization bill that became law in October requiring final action on the rule. It went into effect this week and requires airlines to disclose how many checked bags, motorized scooters and, yes, wheelchairs they damage or mishandle each month.

Says the senator: “I know from personal experience that when an airline damages a wheelchair, it is more than a simple inconvenience—it’s a complete loss of mobility and independence. It was the equivalent of taking my legs away from me again. No air traveler should be left in the lurch, immobile on a plane.”

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