Patti's late husband, Bob, seated in his wheelchair in a garden of flowers.Patti Smith's Late Husband, Bob

Chair In Pieces

About seven years ago my late husband and I were returning from a cruise out of Ft. Lauderdale on Delta Airlines. We landed in Boston and awaited my husband’s power wheelchair (a Jazzy) to be returned from cargo. When it came off the elevator it was quite literally in pieces. The story was that it had fallen off the conveyor belt in Ft. Lauderdale. Delta’s mechanic could not put it together. After several hours, a friend who was a marine engineer came to the airport to assemble it enough so that my husband could sit in it but the electronics still did not work. We drove two hours home to Harwich, MA, with the wheelchair dangerously unsecured. The local service company declared the wheelchair beyond salvage. Delta Airlines (which became particularly helpful when they realized my husband, despite his disability, was a practicing attorney.) offered to pay for a new wheelchair and pay for a rental until the new chair could be delivered. I think this amounted to over $9,000. In theory, this might sound good but those of us who deal with wheelchair issues everyday know that each one is personal to one’s needs. The rental wheelchair would not “lock” in the handicap outfitted van nor would it line up with his custom built desk. Nor did it have some of the features such as elevated seating on his old chair.

This dangerous and difficult situation continued for about three months until the replacement chair arrived. But the paramount issue is that it changed our lifestyle. We didn’t want to risk another damaged chair so we no longer took flights. I feel that we missed out on many trips and the joy that traveling offers purely due to the negligence of Delta Airlines.

Adding to our frustration was the knowledge that for years hard plastic containers for power wheelchairs had been designed and were available to airlines. However, these containers took up more room in the cargo area so airlines were resistant to using them.

Patti Smith, MA