Her friend Bri Scalesse explained how important it is for wheelchair users to have their own set of wheels.
In a now-viral TikTok video, a disabled woman named Gabrielle deFiebre got off her Delta flight and found out that her power wheelchair had been damaged. Her friend Bri Scalesse shared the video on May 22, documenting her friend's heartbreaking reaction after finding out that the airline staff had broken the wheels of her chair. The clip shows deFiebre being lifted into the replacement chair by staff. The on-screen text reads: Today my heart broke watching my best friend sob because Delta broke her wheels. People in wheelchairs live in constant fear of airlines breaking our wheelchairs because it happens so often. I am so tired of watching my community.
An airline damaged my sons wheelchair.. it's not a stroller airlines, it's someones legs.— Chris (@OllieNewYork) May 26, 2021
Power wheelchairs often are specifically designed for the user and are expensive. As bad as that is... it's not just that. As Scalesse tells Newsweek, "Our wheelchairs are a part of us." She elaborates, "This moment was so heartbreaking and painful because that weekend was meant to be one of celebration, not another reminder of how our community still is not treated the same as everyone else. Our wheelchairs are a part of us and they should not be stored under the plane like luggage. My wheelchair is a part of me in the way no other item or object is. I, as wheel as many chair users, feel deep anxiety when we watch our chairs get wheeled away, not knowing if they will come back in one piece. I love traveling. I don't want to be afraid that I won't be able to move when I get off a flight." According to the US Department of Transformation's Monthly Air Travel Consumer Report, there were 310 cases of wheelchairs and scooters being mishandled by airlines just in the month of March 2021 alone!
A girl I know had her power-assist wheels for her wheelchair (that she needs to be independent) broken by Delta. This is an ongoing issue that has happened to countless people in chairs flying with different airlines. You can’t replace something custom made for you in a day. pic.twitter.com/yjYD5QmZ0l— Beak (@AstridLevinson) May 22, 2021
"My wheelchair was fine and in good shape when I handed it to the ground crew at JFK before getting on the plane. My wheel was warped and mangled when I exited the plane in Phoenix. So I'm not sure when in the process of loading/during the flight/unloading it got damaged, but sometime between when it left my sight and when I saw it again after getting out of the plane it was destroyed. I had signs on my chair about how to properly lift and store it because I am always worried about my chair surviving a flight," deFiebre explained to Newsweek. "I'm a quadriplegic and rely on power-assist wheels. I can push very short distances with regular wheels, but my power-assist wheels are really the only way I can get around. I am pretty private about crying—very few people have seen me cry. My sobs were uncontrollable and I didn't care that it was in front of the entire flight crew and others. I was defeated and devastated and figured we would have to turn around and go back to NYC," she added.
.@Delta I see youve broken yet another wheelchair in transit.— Taylor Kinnerup (@TaylorKinnerup) May 21, 2021
Wheelchairs are NOT luggage! They’re an extension of an individual user.
If you would heavily compensate an able bodied customer for breaking their legs mid-flight, the same should be said for breaking a wheelchair. pic.twitter.com/tn2VlIn94p
In an update, Scalesse shared that the airline had agreed to pay for replacing the wheels. A spokesperson for Delta Airlines said, "We're so sorry that her wheelchair was damaged and have been in touch with her directly to make this right, including support to make repairs to her device. We know our customers with disabilities rely on Delta for their travel needs, and we fell short here. We're conducting a full investigation of what happened, because we must be better."
The TikTok video has sparked some reactions not just from the Internet community but officials as well. The video, posted on Twitter, even got The International Air Transport Association responding with an apology and promise for improvement: "We are sorry to see this situation. Mobility aids like these are so crucial for the mobility of these individuals. As an industry, we need to do better on this as everyone deserves access to safe and dignified travel. We are engaging the accessibility and aviation communities to better this situation for travelers with wheelchairs. The handling of mobility aids is a key area we are addressing for improvement and there will be more news to come on this." Hopefully, they stay true to their word.
i used to work as a wheelchair assistant for delta and i remember having to pick up this little girl and her mom who were coming from Australia. When we got to baggage claim, they saw her wheelchair was completely destroyed. my heart broke 🥺 they definitely need a better system. https://t.co/CR3S3Y29bZ— r e a u x. (@ronisharue) May 22, 2021