Quadriplegic man bedbound for hours after airline would not load chair

A quadriplegic man who participated in the Boston Marathon was left bedridden for 19 hours after an airline refused to load his wheelchair ‘because there was too much other luggage’ – and when they did finally deliver it, it was completely broken.  

Matt Wetherbee, who lost the use of his legs in a freak accident while playing basketball in 2016, was flying from Boston with his wife and were on a layover in Charlotte, when he says American Airlines refused to load his wheelchair, citing a lack of room. 

‘After my chair was damaged twice on 2 separate flights, grounds crew in Charlotte refused to load it in cargo because there was too much other luggage (federal violation).

Still don’t have chair 16hrs later,’  the 34-year-old tweeted from a bed at Charlotte Douglas International Airport, at American Airlines Monday of the incident.

Matt Wetherbee, a 34-year-old quadriplegic man – tweeted about the incident at American Airlines from a bed at Charlotte Douglas International Airport, which he had then been confined to for 16 hours

The flight crew in Charlotte told Matt, 34, and his wife of five years, Kaitlyn Kiely, that their only options were to get off the plane or get on the flight without his wheelchair

The crew in Charlotte told Matt and his wife of five years, Kaitlyn Kiely, their options were to get off the plane or get on without the chair – which had already been damaged by a flight crew at Logan. 

‘I cannot stay overnight here…I don’t have the proper supplies or help…And this is my only way of moving anywhere,’ Wetherbee told the Charlotte grounds crew, who refused to remove other luggage to make room for Matt’s $60,000 chair, which he needs to move. 

Accompanied by his wife – who pushed the wheelchair-bound man along all 26.2 miles of the Boston Marathon in 2018 – the pair were left stranded at the airport for hours, waiting for the airline to deliver Matt’s chair, which he needs after suffering a freak spinal cord injury playing basketball in 2016.


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‘You refused to load his $60,000 chair that literally he cannot move without,’ Kaitlyn wrote on social media after waiting 16 hours in the Charlotte airport for the airline to produce her husband’s chair. 

She added that her husband had to be taken off the plane in his shower chair, which he could not stay in for more than an hour.

What’s more the couple says the airline violated federal law by not packing the wheelchair before others’ luggage. 

Matt’s wife, Kaitlyn Kelly, took to social media after waiting 16 hours at a Charlotte airport for American Airlines to produce her husband’s chair

Finally, after 19 hours of waiting, the airline finally delivered Matt’s chair – completely broken

Kaitlyn Kiely, 34, pushed her wheelchair-bound husband along all 26.2 miles of the Boston Marathon in 2018

The couple are pictured at the finish line after completing the 26.2-mile course in 2018

‘Not only could this have injured him, but you had the chance to do the right thing as all accessible devices MUST be loaded before all other luggage…

and your grounds manager broke the law,’ she continued in a series of scathing posts.

An irate Kaitlyn said on instagram reseller panel while waiting for the situation to be rectified then revealed that Matt ‘had to spend 16 hours in bed waiting for his chair to be delivered’ – and it still had not been received.

‘This is absolutely DEPLORABLE,’ she wrote.

‘Do you really want to be known as the airline who deprived a quadriplegic of not only his basic human rights, but you have made it so he never wants to fly again.’

‘The employees that allowed this to happen should be terminated without question.’

‘You should be ashamed of yourselves @americanair,’ she chided.

Kaitlyn then urged followers to dignity-depriving behavior towards a 34-year-old quadriplegic,’ and warned the airline, ‘your lack of human decency and complete disregard for the law will be communicated to as many news outlets as possible.’

Hours later, however, the couple had still not been helped.

‘Chair is still not back yet.

Make that 18 hours in bed,’ Kaitlyn updated. 

‘If he ends up with a pressure sore because of your employees, you will never hear the end of this,’ she warned the airline. 

Finally, after 19 hours of waiting, the airline finally delivered Matt’s chair – completely broken.

‘Chair finally delivered 19 hours later…and COMPLETELY BROKEN,’ Kaitlyn wrote on Instagram.

After the incident, Matt aired concerns to a Boston news outlet that this is a common issue, and he’s not the first person this has happened to.

‘It’s not safe to not be able to move yourself everywhere if there’s an emergency,’ he told Boston 25 News. 

‘People rely on these things just to live their lives.

Where able-bodied people could have done without their luggage for a day.’

 American Airlines told DailMail.com in an official statement Tuesday, “We strive to provide a safe and enjoyable experience to all of our customers, including those who fly with wheelchairs and assistive devices, and we sincerely regret that Mr. Wetherbee had a negative experience with us.’ 

‘Our team is looking into this, and we have reached out to him to apologize and understand what occurred,’ the airline added.

Kaitlyn, however, is irate at the airline, and wants them to be held accountable for the incident. 

‘You broke the law and this needs to be known,’ she continued in a post that tagged several news publications as well as the airline, including the New York Times, CNN, and Boston Globe.

‘If you do not call them out, this will happen to someone else. Please let those with disabilities have all the same human rights that able bodied people do,’ she added. 

Users took to social media to express their disgust over the incident. 

‘This is absolutely horrifying and disgusting,’ one user wrote.

‘This is not OK,’ chided another. 

Another user tagged the airline and simply stated, ‘ Be better.’ 

‘@AmericanAir has taken away Matt’s independence and mobility,’ another wrote.

‘This cannot be acceptable.’

‘This airline needs to get it together. They need to do better.’ 

 Another blasted, ‘SHAME ON YOU!’ 

Wetherbee has been in a wheelchair for the past five years following the accident that damaged the upper portion of his spine just days before he planned to propose to his then girlfriend of five years Kaitlyn.

Since the accident, he’s undergone extensive therapy in hopes that he can one day get back on his feet and use his own two arms to propose to Kaitlyn, who has been helping him adjust to his new life.

In 2018, the couple set out to prove that they could overcome all obstacles, when Kaitlyn pushed Matt along all 26.2 miles of the Boston Marathon route.

The country’s largest airlines have lost or damaged a staggering 15,425 wheelchairs or scooters since they were required to start reporting those numbers to the government at the end of 2018 — or 29 a day — a full 1.5 percent of all mobility devices loaded as cargo!

Sources said those numbers would be even higher if not for the unprecedentedly low numbers of air travelers during the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020.

John Morris, 31, founder of the accessible travel site Wheelchair Travel, believes that even those numbers are low when compared to reality.

‘Just in my own experience, it approaches 50 percent of trips,’ he said after getting off a flight in which his own chair was damaged, forcing him to file another claim.

‘I know that it does raise some level of awareness about the fact that damage is occurring,’ he said.

‘And that is something that for a long time was swept under the rug and wasn’t really a matter of public knowledge.’

‘Every airline passenger deserves to be treated with dignity and respect, but too often that is not the case,’ Duckworth, a double amputee, said in a statement in 2018. 

‘I know from personal experience that when an airline damages a wheelchair, it is more than a simple inconvenience — it’s a complete loss of mobility and independence.

It was the equivalent of taking my legs away from me again.’ 

‘No air traveler should be left in the lurch, immobile on a plane.’

‘She kept repeating ‘This is my life. This is the only way I can live my life,’ wrote her friend, who was traveling with her and posted the video.

‘People in wheelchairs live in constant fear of airlines breaking our wheelchairs because it happens so often.’

And in a tweet in response to the deplorable damage of Wetherbee’s wheelchair, the International Air Transport Association admitted, ‘As an industry, we do need to do better on this as everyone deserves access to safe and dignified travel.’

‘@AmericanAir should be ashamed,’ someone sniped on social media after the recent incident.

‘This is so wrong.’

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