HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Maria McClellan, 27, was born with dwarfism and a spinal deformity.
At 3-feet-2-inches tall, she depends on her electric wheelchair, which was custom-built in England, to get around and lift her up.
But after a recent round trip on Hawaiian Airlines from Oahu to Kahului, that mobility was compromised because she says it was mishandled by airline employees.
McClellan pointed out where a critical cord ripped off, exterior was cracked, wheels tilted off their axle and explained how the chair’s elevator is off balance. The damage may look minor to the untrained eye, but McClellan says she can feel the slightest imperfection.
“My stuff is getting damaged. That’s pretty bad. I know other people’s stuff gets damaged, but it’s not usually their only mode of transportation,” she said.
McClellan received photos of her wheelchair taken by ground crews during transit and she wants Hawaiian Airlines to pay for a new chair costing up to $40,000.
Hawaiian Airlines sent emails to McClellan apologizing.
“We are again extremely sorry to hear about your damaged wheelchair. While your case is being reviewed to ensure resolution, we have authorized the refund of your used tickets,” said an email from the Senior Resolution Coordinator at Hawaiian Airlines' Consumer Affairs Office.
An airline spokeswoman says the company also offered McClellan and her father $500 travel credits and put the family in touch with a vendor to repair the chair.
Disability law attorney Lundsford Phillips says wheelchair damage during air travel is common. His own electric wheelchair was damaged three times so now he only flies with his backup.
“The wheelchairs which are pretty sophisticated machines are treated with the same lack of care that our bags are when we check them into the airline,” he said.
Meanwhile, McClellan’s father jury-rigged her old electric wheelchair and while the local repair shop did some work, McClellan insists her wheelchair is not fully fixed.
“The manufacturer of my chair said because the damage was so horrible, it voids the 5 year guarantee,” she said.
McClellan plans to travel in a month and says she’ll take her wheelchair apart and pack it in boxes for the flight.