Traveler is shattered when her wheelchair falls off a plane

Traveler is shattered when her wheelchair falls off a plane

This wasn’t how Stephanie Gross wanted her wedding journey to begin.

She was flying from Washington National Airport to San Diego via Philadelphia on American Airlines on July 10 to get ready for the big day.

Gross, 27, who has Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, said she made it to Philadelphia before the flight path collapsed.

That first flight was operating on a small plane regional planesometimes abbreviated as CRJ.

“I didn’t have a good history with my CRJs and wheelchairs,” Gross said. Because planes are so small, her chair can never enter the cabin and always has to be laden with luggage, which she said seemed to increase the likelihood of the device arriving broken after a flight.

“I sit in my seat talking to myself about what I would do if they broke my seat at this point in the game,” Gross said.

It turns out that her fears are justified.

She said, “The wheelchair came down sideways and then I watch the person unload the wheelchair and I see him pick it up[and]watch him drop it.” “As I watched my wheelchair fall to the ground, I ended up on the floor crying.”

Stephanie Gross's wheelchair is damaged after a fall in Philadelphia.

Stephanie Gross’s wheelchair is damaged after a fall in Philadelphia.

Her wheelchair was badly damaged as a result of the fall, and Gross realized that she would not be able to carry out what she had planned Disneyland Stop and continue to San Diego without a powered wheelchair.

“There’s no way I can go to Disneyland without my electric aid,” she said. “Thank God we were connecting through Philadelphia, where I’m from.”

Groce’s mother manages to meet her and her now husband at the airport. The couple borrow Groce’s mother’s car and drive back to their home in Ft. Meade, Maryland to retrieve her spare wheelchair.

“I am very fortunate to have two wheelchairs,” said Gross. “When this happens – most people only have one wheelchair – you are effectively dropped until this is sorted out.”

Gross and her partner returned to Philadelphia and continued to San Diego the next day, though she said she had to argue with customer service representatives at the airport about storing her wheelchair in the cabin, rather than in storage.

Gross said the flight crew supported her in getting her wheelchair on the plane.

“They were so amazing,” she said. “We got to California without further incident, thank God, because I’m in a wheelchair.”

American Airlines acknowledged the incident in a statement to USA TODAY.

“American understands the importance of wheelchairs and assistive devices to our customers who rely on them. We remain committed to improving the handling of our customers’ devices and their overall travel experience.” A member of our team has apologized and is working with the customer to replace their devices, the statement said.

In the end, Groce’s wedding went ahead as scheduled, but she said she was still not sure when she would get her new wheelchair. The whole ordeal added an enormous amount of stress to an already high-stakes journey, she added.

Stephanie Gross and her husband Jake at their wedding.

Stephanie Gross and her husband Jake at their wedding.

“Our bodies physically arrived in California doing well, but the wheelchair didn’t. If you don’t get in the wheelchair there well, you won’t get along well,” she said.

Groce added that she has encountered similar issues when traveling with her wheelchair before and hopes airlines will work to address this persistent problem in the industry.

“This has happened to my wheelchair at multiple airports and this indicates a systemic problem,” she said. “It’s happening all over the place and rather than just turning a blind eye to it because the bottom line isn’t affected, they need to get more practice with it.”

cruising height: The data doesn’t show how “catastrophic” damage a wheelchair can cause to an airline

How common is damage to mobility equipment in air travel?

According to the Department of Transportation, airlines “misuse” on average about 1.5% of the mobility equipment they transport. In 2022, that translated to 11,389 incidents reported by US airlines, up from 7,239 in 2021.

This year, USA TODAY wants to highlight what those numbers mean for travelers with disabilities. We look forward to tracking these incidents throughout 2023 with the goal of shedding light on a very common issue.

If your mobility equipment has been damaged or lost by an airline this year, please share your story with us using the form below:

Zach Wichter is a travel correspondent for USA TODAY based in New York. You can contact him at

This article originally appeared in the USA TODAY: “Systematic problem”: Disabled travelers experience frequent device damage

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