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A quadriplegic man was bedbound for 19 hours after the airline broke his wheelchair in Boston and then refused to load it onto a plane in Charlotte, NC, he and his New Jersey wife said on social media.
Matt Wetherbee, 34, tweeted from a bed during a layover at Charlotte Douglas International Airport that American’s crew at Boston Logan International Airport had damaged his chair.
Then, the crew in Charlotte refused to load it onto the plane he was boarding due to a lack of space.
After my chair was damaged twice on 2 separate @AmericanAir flights, grounds crew in Charlotte refused to load it in cargo because there was too much other luggage (federal violation). Still don’t have chair 16hrs later. #AmericanAirlines
A post shared by Matt Wetherbee (@mwetherbee)
Wetherbee, who lost the use of his legs during a freak basketball accident in 2016, depends on the $60,000 electric chair to get around.
He and his wife, Kaitlyn Kiely, of Old Tappan, NJ, made headlines in 2018 when she pushed him 26.2 miles through the Boston Marathon.
Meantime, the airline pushed Wetherbee off the plane in his shower chair, which he cannot stay in for more than an hour.
But troubles started even before that, Kiely said.
“[Wetherbee] is always boarded first, because he always has to be carried and transferred to and from his chair to a small aisle chair to his seat where he needs to be strapped in,” explained Kiely. “And vice versa on the way off the plane.
“But they boarded him after a good amount of people boarded, which was pretty humiliating for him to be carried around in front of a plane full of people.”
Then, just as the plane was about to take off, Wetherbee’s aide overhead on one of the radios that his chair wasn’t fitting because there was too much luggage on the flight.
A federal mandate states that assistive and medical devices must be loaded before the passengers’ luggage.
And so, the grounds crew refused to unload the cargo to put the chair in, Kiely said.
The airline then told Wetherbee and his aide that they could either get off the plane or stay without the chair, Kiely said.
Because Wetherbee didn’t have enough medical supplies with him to stay another day, he only had one choice: Fly home.
At that point, he was carried off the plane and put into his shower chair, which is not meant for travel. He was wheeled through the airport to his van to go home — another safety issue, as there aren’t traps in the van for a shower chair, his wife said.
“This chair is his lifeline, it’s how he moves, it’s his how he opens doors, uses his phone, offers the chance for pressure relief so as not to get a pressure sore, etc.,” Kiely explained.
Wetherbee can’t be in just any chair, which is why he remained bedbound for 19 hours, until American Airlines delivered his chair. And by then, it was broken.
“The chair wouldn’t turn on, the control panel (the brain of the chair) was not working,” Kiely said.
“Wires were loose, and his knee blocker (this keeps him safe in his chair so that when he spasms, his legs don’t lock out and he doesn’t fall out of the chair) was completely bent.”
Kiely took to Instagram to share her frustrations and raise awareness.
“This is absolutely deplorable,” she wrote. “Do you really want to be known as the airline who deprived a quadriplegic of not only his basic human rights, but you have made it so he never wants to fly again.”
An enraged Kiely said what the airline did was a federal violation.
American Airlines issued the following statement to Daily Mail:
“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.”
A post shared by Kaitlyn Kiely (@kkiely14)
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