Congressman seeks answers after Phoenix basketball team’s wheelchairs dismantled on flight

May 2, 2024, 7:51 AM

A Wheelchair Suns player holds a basketball during a game. The team encountered problems while trav...

Members of the Wheelchair Suns basketball team encountered problems while traveling to Virginia to play recently. (Ability360 Photo)

(Ability360 Photo)

PHOENIX — An Arizona congressman is seeking answers after a Phoenix-based basketball team’s wheelchairs were dismantled and mishandled on a recent Southwest Airlines flight.

Rep. Greg Stanton, a member of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, sent a letter to Southwest CEO Robert Johnson on Wednesday describing the situation and asking what the Dallas-based airline is doing to prevent it from happening again.

Per Stanton’s letter, the Wheelchair Suns flew to Richmond, Virginia, in April to play in the National Wheelchair Basketball Association Championship Series.

The Wheelchair Suns are an adult basketball team based at Ability360, a nonprofit Phoenix fitness center for people with disabilities.

“When the players’ chairs were loaded in the plane’s cargo hold, Southwest staff removed the wheels from their chairs — despite players’ explicit instructions to leave the wheels on to avoid damage,” the East Valley Democrat wrote.

“After they landed in Richmond, players from Phoenix and two other teams were stuck on the plane for more than two hours while they watched their chairs – necessary equipment for them to participate in the game – fall off the conveyor belt and onto the ground.”

How did Southwest respond to wheelchair basketball team’s issues

The players and their families then spent four hours at the airport putting the chairs back together properly. After all the difficulties, Southwest responded by issuing $150 vouchers for future travel to the players.

“As a member of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, I would like to know what Southwest is doing following this incident to better train and educate their employees on how to properly care for and stow mobility devices,” the Stanton wrote. “What will the strategy be to ensure anyone who is traveling with a mobility device is treated with dignity and is able to exit a landed aircraft in a timely manner?”

Damage to wheelchairs and scooters during air travel is a growing problem. The U.S. Department of Transportation said 11,527 of the devices were mishandled by airlines last year, up from 10,337 in 2022.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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Congressman seeks answers after Phoenix basketball team’s wheelchairs dismantled on flight