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Updated: September 29, 2021 @ 4:16 am
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) — A quadriplegic Louisville man who relies on his motorized chair said it was broken on a recent trip, and he is asking the airline what went wrong.
Matt Wetherbee was paralyzed following a basketball injury in 2016 and has been in an electric wheelchair ever since. Last weekend, he was seated on a connecting American Airlines flight and was told the $60,000 chair he relied on to move was not coming along.
“My aide had overheard the grounds crew chief — or whatever you want to call him — talking and saying that there was too much other passenger luggage down there and they didn’t want to rearrange it or move it in order to fit this chair,” Wetherbee said.
Wetherbee was given two options: stay the night in Charlotte and take a flight the next morning — which, medically, was not possible — or leave on the flight and his chair would be on the next one.
“It’s in fact a federal regulation to put any mobility device on the plane first before any other passenger,” Wetherbee said.
Fortunately, he had his shower chair and was pushed to a van to go home and had to lay at home for nearly 19 hours for the chair to arrive. And when it did, it was broken.
“I’ve had so many people in the last couple of days say, ‘Oh, my gosh, this has happened to me,'” said Wetherbee’s wife, Kaitlyn, who was not on the flight.
She said the entire situation is embarrassing and is an example of what so many disabled people experience.
“He should be afforded the same opportunities that everybody else can be afforded to fly,” she said.
But it’s something the couple strives for every day. They even completed the Boston Marathon in 2018, Kaitlyn pushing Matt the entire way.
American Airlines sent a statement to WDRB News regarding the situation:
“We strive to provide a safe and enjoyable experience to all of our customers, including those who fly with wheelchairs and assistive devices, and we sincerely regret that Mr. Wetherbee had a negative experience with us. Our team is looking into this, and we have reached out to him to apologize and understand what occurred.”
A wheelchair technician did fix much of the chair Tuesday, but some parts — including a screen that helps Wetherbee with his movement — has not. He said he is looking to talk to American Airlines personally, but the options they gave him he physically can’t do.
“I have tried to call back but I haven’t had someone to help me during that call, which requires a five-digit extension to get through to them … and I can’t do that,” Wetherbee said. “More than anything, it’s more of just I would like to make sure that this doesn’t happen to anybody else. It’s just kind of raising awareness and educating people.”
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