It was “the worst nightmare of air travel came true,” Rachel Cole wrote on Facebook about her and husband Nic’s ordeal earlier this month.
During a routine American Airlines flight from Dallas to Minneapolis, Nic’s specially made wheelchair was lost by the airline’s baggage handlers for 12 hours.
“HIS WHEELCHAIR IS NOT A MEANS OF CONVENIENCE FOR GETTING AROUND. IT IS AN ABSOLUTE NECESSITY FOR HIS LIFE,” Rachel wrote in all caps on a Facebook post July 15 that has gone viral and was highlighted on the “Today” show. “This situation should have never occurred.”
The couple had driven from their Fayetteville, Arkansas, home to Dallas to ensure a direct flight to Minneapolis and decrease the chance of airline loss for the chair, which had to be checked.
To make matters worse, Nic’s chair is specifically made to alleviate pressure sores, so transferring him to “a regular chair” at the airport doesn’t work.
Travelers Nic and Rachel Cole say American Airlines "lost" Nic's wheelchair for 12 hours. (Photo: American Airlines)
“His personal chair is imperative to his health and well being!” Rachel wrote. “Without his chair, Nic has ZERO mobility, ZERO independence, he has to be completely humiliated being pushed all around much like a child in a stroller in an airport full of people strapped to this ‘transport chair.’ “
For medical and safety reasons, the couple waited in a hotel room, with Nic on the bed.
“I think it was 13 hours I was in bed,” Nic told “Today.” “It wasn’t just a bummer, it was a safety issue as well.”
The couple missed their whole reason for the flight, an appointment for a modified van fitting needed for Nic to return to work. The fitting required his regular chair. It was an appointment the couple made in September.
Meanwhile the chair traveled from Texas to Ohio, back to Texas, then to Iowa, and eventually made it to its original destination of Minneapolis.
The couple finally got word in the evening that the wheelchair had arrived.
“Every single second of those 12 hours Nic has laid in this hotel bed, completely immobile, and every single second his safety and well being has been compromised,” wrote Rachel, commenting that in case of emergency, she would not have been able to move her husband safely from the eighth floor room.
Rachel gave praise to the staff who helped track down the chair, but said she brought the issue up to raise awareness.
“The entire community of differently abled people do not deserve this. This is not a ‘checked bag that was lost,’ ” she wrote. “This was his entire Mobility and independence that was lost.”
An American Airlines representative tells USA TODAY, “We were concerned to hear about this, and our team is reviewing what transpired.”
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