Has an airline ever lost or destroyed your luggage? 

Next time it happens, they'll have to do something very different--and they'll have only themselves to blame, after how they treated a politician with an incredibly inspiring story.

Senator Tammy Duckworth is a Democrat from Illinois. She's a lawmaker, a mother, and a wounded warrior -- a former U.S. Army helicopter pilot who became a double amputee after the UH-60 Black Hawk she was co-piloting was shot down over Iraq in 2004.

Duckworth now uses crutches or a wheelchair, and it's what airlines did to her wheelchair -- not once, but twice -- that sparked her interest in the Federal Aviation Administration reauthorization bill that Congress passed this year.

'I don't know how they did that'

I've written about this law a few times. It's truly a sweeping piece of legislation that radically changes life for passengers, airline employees, and airline employees alike.

But because this bill ran 1,200 pages, and was passed by Congress at 2:52 a.m. on a Saturday, and signed by President Trump on a Friday afternoon at literally when all of Washington was focused on a key speech about Trump's Supreme Court nominee, there are many key provisions that people didn't notice or understand at the time.

One of them, apparently, is what Senator Duckworth managed to add.

Last year, while flying on a major airline -- Duckworth didn't say which one -- the carrier somehow managed to break a titanium rod that holds together Duckworth's wheelchair.

It's actually the second time an incident like this has happened to her since she was originally elected to Congress in 2012.

"I don't know how they did that. I didn't think you could," Duckworth told Crain's Chicago Business. And she set out to fix the problem.

An unenforced rule

It turns out that in the waning days of the Obama administration, the U.S. Department of Transportation proposed a rule that would have required carriers to keep data on how often passenger wheelchairs and other medical devices were damaged.

But once Trump was elected, the incoming Transportation Department didn't enforce the proposed rule. So with the aviation bill looming, Duckworth jumped on it.

She added language that requires the FAA to take final action on the wheelchair data rule, and also says that airlines have to disclose how many checked bags and motorized scooters they damage each month.

It's not clear to if people noticed this provision, buried as it was among provisions to do many, many things like: 

  • prohibiting airlines from "bumping" passengers who've already boarded a plane
  • making it illegal to store a dog or other animal in an overhead bin
  • requiring the FAA to set minimum standards for seat width and seat pitch
  • letting the government hack or shoot down privately owned drones if they deem them a threat
  • requiring the FAA to set up an "Office of Spaceports" 

But President Trump signed the whole thing in October; the provision Duckworth reportedly included went into effect last week.

'Personal experience'

So if you're making a decision about which airline to fly, and rates of damaged luggage or important equipment are an important factor for you, there should soon be data available to help you.

"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," Duckworth said, according to Crain's. "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."


Published on: Dec 9, 2018
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