Embarrassing, Uncomfortable and Risky: What Flying Is Like for Passengers Who Use Wheelchairs

By Amanda Morris: For Complete Post, Click Here…

Charles Brown has always loved flying. He loves the steady roar of the engine beneath him as the plane rises high above a shrinking ground, turning houses into small blocks of color and cars into floating specks of light below.

Mr. Brown’s passion evolved from building model airplanes as a child to training in aviation ordnance when he joined the U.S. Marine Corps in 1985. His military career was cut short a year later, when he hit his head diving into a swimming pool and injured his spinal cord, resulting in incomplete paralysis of his arms and legs.

He now uses a wheelchair and, because of his disability, finds flying to be a risk.

“When I fly nowadays, it literally is a moment of, ‘OK, what do I have to do to get through this day without getting injured more?’” Mr. Brown explained.

On his first flight after his injury, Mr. Brown got a concussion during the landing; he couldn’t stay upright, and his head slammed into the seat in front of him. On another flight a few years ago, two airline employees dropped him — it was a hard fall — while lifting him into a special aisle wheelchair. He shattered his tailbone and spent four months in the hospital afterward, battling a life-threatening infection.

There’s also the worry of what will happen to his $41,000 wheelchair when it is loaded and unloaded from the plane. The wheelchair, custom designed to fit Mr. Brown’s body, prevents pressure sores. Without it, he could risk another potentially life-threatening infection.

It’s not uncommon for airlines to lose or damage wheelchairs. In 2021, at least 7,239 wheelchairs or scooters were lost, damaged, delayed or stolen on the country’s largest airlines, according to the Air Travel Consumer Report. That’s about 20 per day.

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