Quadriplegic marathoner left bedbound after American Airlines refused to load his wheelchair

American Airlines refused to load a quadriplegic man’s wheelchair, leaving him bedridden for 19 hours. 

  • Matt Wetherbee, a quadriplegic marathoner, was forced to wait for 19 hours for American Airlines to deliver his wheelchair after they refused to load it during his flight.
  • Wetherbee’s wife, Kaitlyn Kiely, demands the company be held accountable for the incident. 
  • Since late 2018, the largest airlines in the U.S. have lost or damaged more than 15,000 wheelchairs. 

Matt Wetherbee, a quadriplegic man who participated in the Boston Marathon, claims American Airlines refused to load his wheelchair “because there was too much other luggage.”

At the time of the incident, Wetherbee and his wife, Kaitlyn Kiely, were flying from Boston and were on a layover in Charlotte, Daily Mail reports.

In a Twitter post the 34-year-old marathoner wrote from a bed at Charlotte Douglas International Airport, he said:

“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.”

Reportedly, Matt and Kaitlyn’s only options were to get off the plane or get on without the already damaged chair. 

Speaking to the Charlotte grounds crew, who refused to remove other luggage to make room for Matt’s wheelchair, he explained:

“I cannot stay overnight here…I don’t have the proper supplies or help…And this is my only way of moving anywhere.”

Credits: Matt Wetherbee / Instagram

The couple was left stranded at the airport for hours, waiting for the airline to deliver the quadriplegic man’s chair. Aggravated by the unacceptable situation they were forcefully put in, Kaitlyn wrote on a social media post:

“You refused to load his $60,000 chair that literally he cannot move without.”

According to the pair, the airline violated federal law by not packing the wheelchair before others’ luggage.

In a series of posts, Kaitlyn stated:

“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.

This is absolutely DEPLORABLE. 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.”

Credits: Matt Wetherbee / Instagram

The enraged wife added:

“The employees that allowed this to happen should be terminated without question. You should be ashamed of yourselves @americanair.”

Eventually, after 19 hours of waiting for the wheelchair to be delivered, it was “completely broken.”

Kaitlyn wrote:

“Chair finally delivered 19 hours later..and COMPLETELY BROKEN

Credits: Kaitlyn Kiely / Instagram

Following the incident, in an interview with Boston 25 News, Wetherbee said:

“It’s not safe to not be able to move yourself everywhere if there’s an emergency. People rely on these things just to live their lives. Where able-bodied people could have done without their luggage for a day.”

In an official statement, American Airlines said they “sincerely regret that Mr. Wetherbee had a negative experience” with their staff. 

The statement sent to Daily Mail on Tuesday said:

“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.”

Nevertheless, Matt’s infuriated wife demands the company be held accountable for their actions. In a post tagging American Airlines, as well as the New York Times, CNN, and Boston Globe, Kaitlyn said:

“You broke the law and this needs to be known.”

Credits: Kaitlyn Kiely / Instagram

She added:

“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.”

More than 15,000 wheelchairs have been damaged or lost by the country’s largest airlines since 2018. 

According to John Morris, founder of the accessible travel site Wheelchair Travel, even those numbers are low compared to reality. Following a flight in which his own chair was damaged, Morris said:

“Just in my own experience, it approaches 50 percent of trips. I know that it does raise some level of awareness about the fact that damage is occurring. And that is something that for a long time was swept under the rug and wasn’t really a matter of public knowledge.”

Additionally, in a 2018 statement, U.S. Senator Tammy Duckworth, a double amputee, said:

“Every airline passenger deserves to be treated with dignity and respect, but too often that is not the case.

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.”

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