WASHINGTON — American Airlines and its subsidiary, Envoy Air, are among the worst major airlines when it comes to mishandling wheelchairs and scooters, according to data reported for the first time this month.

According to the just-published February 2018 Air Travel Consumer Report, American Airlines reported mishandling 151 (7.22 percent) of the 2,091 wheelchairs that came aboard its planes in December 2018. Envoy Air, a wholly owned subsidiary of American Airlines formerly known as American Eagle Airlines, reported mishandling 14.68 percent of the wheelchairs and scooters it handled during that same period – making it the worst offender in the data reported by the FAA.

ExpressJet Airlines – which previously flew American Eagle-branded flights in partnership with American but is now owned by a subsidiary of United Airlines – also made it into the worst five offenders with a mishandling rate of 5.33 percent.

FAA Wheelchair Mishandling Report February 2019
Federal Aviation Administration

American Airlines spokeswoman Shannon Gilson released a statement to WUSA9 Thursday night saying the airline was taking steps to improve its processes. 

"Our goal is to ensure customers of all abilities have a positive travel experience and we strive to do better every day," Gilson wrote. "We’ve taken a number of steps to meet the new reporting requirements and continue to improve our processes to ensure our team members have the tools they need to properly handle and track wheelchairs and assistive devices."

The data release is the result of the passage of the FAA Reauthorization Act last year, which mandated major airlines must disclose incidents of damage or loss to wheelchairs and motorized scooters.

That information has been long-sought by groups like the Paralyzed Veterans of America, who applauded the release of the data Thursday.

“Our members, and anyone with a disability, can now make informed decisions when planning air travel,” said Shaun Castle, deputy executive director for Paralyzed Veterans of America. “We hope this accountability will inspire airlines to improve procedures to accommodate the more than 20 million Americans who have mobility disabilities.”

The February 2019 report is also the first to contain full data for 2018, including which airlines received the most mishandled baggage complaints and which airlines reported overselling the most seats.

Last year, the country’s 12 largest airlines reported transporting 598.5 million pieces of luggage with a mishandling rate of 2.78 percent. Envoy again was the worst offender, with a luggage mishandling rate of 5.76 percent – more than twice the national average. ExpressJet reported mishandling 4.98 percent of luggage.

On the other end of the spectrum, Spirit Airlines topped the list with only 1.72 percent of luggage reported mishandled, with JetBlue Airways (1.75 percent) and Delta Air Lines (1.8 percent) rounding out the top three.

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More than 790,000,000 passengers flew on the 12 largest airlines in the U.S. last year. According to the report, more than 350,000 of them were denied boarding due to their flight being oversold by the airline. Of those, nearly 11,000 were involuntarily denied boarding – meaning they were unable to get on their flight and did not agree to wait to board another flight.

According to the data, Frontier Airlines was the worst offender for involuntarily denying boarding at a rate more than four-times that of the national average. Envoy and Spirit tied for second-worst offender with a rate exactly four times the national average. The data also suggests Envoy increased the number of oversold seats per flight during the holiday season. During that period the airline's involuntary denials of boarding were 144 percent larger than its yearly average.

Delta Air Lines ranked first on the list, reporting that only 22 passengers were involuntarily denied – although it also had the most total oversold seats with 81,728 total passengers denied boarding last year. American Airlines reported involuntarily denying boarding more passengers than Delta, but fewer oversold seats overall.


Jordan Fischer is a digital investigative reporter for WUSA9. Follow him on Twitter at @JordanOnRecord or email him at jfischer@wusa9.com.