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Double amputee war veteran pushes airlines to report on lost and damaged wheelchairs

Double amputee war veteran pushes airlines to report on lost and damaged wheelchairs
U.S. Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.) speaks with reporters as she arrives for a weekly policy luncheon on Dec. 12, 2017, in Washington, D.C. She has pushed for legislation to require airlines to report data on lost or damaged wheelchairs and mobility scooters. (Al Drago / Getty Images)

U.S. Sen. Tammy Duckworth was serving in Iraq when the Black Hawk helicopter she was co-piloting was shot down in 2004. She sustained massive injuries in the crash, forcing doctors to amputate both legs.

Since then, Duckworth (D-Ill.) has been peeved that airlines have broken two of her wheelchairs and lost numerous parts of other wheelchairs.

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As a lawmaker, Duckworth took action. A rule she added to a recently adopted FAA funding bill requires airlines to begin reporting to the U.S. Department of Transportation the number of wheelchairs and mobility scooters that airlines damage or lose each month.

Under previous rules, airlines were required to file monthly reports on the number and rate of flight delays, passengers bumped off of overbooked flights and luggage damaged or lost, among other data, but carriers have not been required to report data on wheelchairs and scooters.

The new rule, Duckworth said, will make it easier for passengers to know — before booking a flight — which airlines have a bad or good record of transporting wheelchairs and scooters.

“Travelers should be able to find out if certain airlines have high rates of breaking wheelchairs and other equipment that people depend on, just like we can find out if certain airlines have high rates of flight delays or cancellations,” she said in a statement. The Transportation Department began enforcing the rule on Monday.

In addition, Duckworth’s legislation forces carriers to report the total number of bags checked, making it easier to calculate a rate of lost bags from the data that airlines already report.

A representative for Airlines for America, the trade group for the nation’s carriers, said the group has been working with advocates for disabled travelers and wheelchair manufacturers “to address the most efficient and safe handling and storage guidelines to reduce the number of wheelchairs damaged in air travel.”

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