Customer Says American Airlines Lost Wheelchair, Stranding Them For Hours

An American Airlines passenger has urged travelers to steer clear of the carrier, saying they were stranded for five hours after workers forgot to load their wheelchair.

Xavi Santiago, who uses the pronouns they/them, said they were flying from Los Angeles to Orlando with a layover in Miami last week. The customer described their ensuing ordeal in a video that went viral on TikTok, amassing over 220,000 views.

"In Miami, after having a whole kerfuffle with no one being there to load me onto the plane and me having to wait until the plane finished boarding to actually get transferred on, they didn't put my chair on the plane," said Santiago.

Upon landing in Orlando, the passenger learned that their wheelchair hadn't made it. Airline staff put Santiago in a manual airport wheelchair and promised their wheelchair would arrive on the next flight from Miami, landing around 9 or 9:30 p.m. The customer was also told they would receive a temporary wheelchair.

@xxavisantiago

Shout out to @American Airlines for losing my power Wheelchair, giving me the runaround, and stranding me at baggage claim with no way to move #disabilitytiktok #travel

♬ original sound - Xavi Santiago

But neither of those promises were kept, said Santiago, whose video was recorded around 11 p.m. They had already waited for over three hours without a wheelchair or a way to leave the airport.

"They have given me nothing but the runaround," they said. "Customer service is pretty much only over the phone and I've been on hold several different times and been told 15 different things."

Eventually, Santiago said in a comment update, they finally received their wheelchair at 1 a.m. after being stranded for five hours.

Passenger in Wheelchair at Airport
A Southwest Airlines passenger is pushed in a wheelchair supplied by the airline at Albuquerque International Sunport in Albuquerque, New Mexico, in February 2019. Xavi Santiago said they were stranded in Orlando for five hours after American Airlines staff forgot to load their wheelchair. Robert Alexander / Contributor/Archive Photos

"I'm still trying to get some sort of compensation for this nightmare ordeal, [especially] considering I have no option but to do my return flight with them," they said. "I wasn't able to eat, it was difficult to use the bathroom, and my chronic pain was flaring hard after sitting in a transfer wheelchair for HOURS."

U.S. airlines mishandled 7,148 wheelchairs in 2021, just under 20 a day, according to the Department of Transportation's Air Travel Consumer Report. "Mishandled" wheelchairs include those that were broken, damaged, lost and delayed.

These complications are more than an inconvenience for many disabled people. In 2021, disability activist Engracia Figueroa died after injuries she sustained when her custom wheelchair was destroyed by United Airlines. Figueroa's wheelchair, made specifically to support her spinal cord injury and left leg amputation, was critical to maintaining her health.

Tammy Spears, an amputee, sued American Airlines in 2020 after crew members allegedly forced her to crawl down an airplane aisle to use the bathroom. According to Lee, flight attendants directed her to "hop" and "scoot" to the bathroom before insisting she use it with the door open, leaving her humiliated and in pain.

In 2018, the family of 67-year-old Olimpia Warsaw, who had Parkinson's disease and diabetes, said she was abandoned in her wheelchair overnight at Chicago O'Hare International Airport after her American Airlines flight was canceled. Family members were unable to locate her until the next day.

Newsweek reached out to Santiago and American Airlines for comment.