Do I Even Need to Tell You What United Did to a $42,000 Specialty Wheelchair?

United Airlines abusing its customers has become so de rigueur I’m not even sure it warrants mention any longer.

Whether they’re forcing children with their own tickets to sit in parents laps instead of seats, having law enforcement remove a couple flying to their wedding, kicking a passenger in the head, and pushing a 71 year old man to the ground… or breaking guitars or breaking a passenger’s face when something terrible happens to a passenger you just shrug and ask, United?

So I don’t even need to tell you which airline “allegedly “destroyed” a custom wheelchair belonging to a 24-year-old man who suffers from a severe spinal condition.”

Valentin Duthion, a France native, set off on a New Jersey-bound flight from Europe on July 2 with a group of friends and left his custom, 550 lb., approximately $42,000 chair in the care of airline staff, Duthion’s sister, Lucie, told Le Progrès.

Here’s the chair with pieces broken off and and its “wheels contorted.”

United says they provided a loaner chair while this one is being repaired. However, “Val doesn’t fit in that. He can’t drive it.” United also says they upgraded the group’s return flight.

Despite what United did to the wheelchair, the group is making the most of their trip.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. It is time for people to just stop flying them. Not sure why people insist in being treated like crap by this corporation. People have choices here so if everyone responds by just leaving their planes empty Wall St will take care of the rest.

  2. As long as there are people who choose the flight that’s five dollars cheaper, United will never lack for passengers.

  3. And I really don’t understand why some people keep defending United!!! Are they paid by United or investors or employees of United? Otherwise, why in their right mind people would defend these kind of treatments by United? Those people really deserve United’s service, and I hope they are treated that way by United.

  4. What this tells me is the Terrorists won the War against America, our Govt has conceded this fact..

    This is exactly what happens to any industry when the Govt forces itself onto it without consent.

    FASCISM DOESNT WORK AMERICA. Whether the Airlines, energy, education or security.

  5. As much as United deserves to be bashed for the other incidents- this is a specialized device that probably needs a special shipping container to be sent safely.

    United failed by not pointing that out when they saw it-

  6. Yes, united is the first airline in history to have damaged somebody’s cargo/luggage.

  7. The real crime is that a company can get away with selling a specialized wheel chair for $42,000. That should be criminal!

  8. Gary, have the credit card referral fees dried up? You’ve stopped writing credit card huckster posts, switched to a sad, whinny obsession with United and 10 year old stories of broken guitars.

  9. Glad to see they made the best of it – that’s the real key.

    AA damaged my wheelchair MIA-LHR a few years ago and there was no way to repair it in London. Had to find a loaner for the weekend (hotel concierge was VERY helpful). Made it to Stonehenge, Greenwich Observatory, London Eye, walking tour of London, and the Jets-Dolphins game at Wembley, just to name a few things I did, in a terrible bariatric-sized loaner. But hey, wasn’t about to let something like a broken wheelchair ruin my trip.

    AA paid for the repair when I got home. Checked baggage damage happens. Such is life.

  10. So a wheel chair gets damaged in transit that is certainly regrettable. But according to your story United has provided a replacement chair (obviously it won’t be a specialty chair because those aren’t available on short notice) is repairing the damaged chair at their expense, and has provided a free upgrade to the party on the return leg of their journey.

    Where is the story? What more should United have done here? Do you honestly expect that an airline should be 100% perfect all the time?

  11. I was with you until I got to “550 lbs”. You don’t just show up at the airport with a 550 lbs $42,000 baggage check. Special arrangements should have been made.

    As pointed out above, United’s only mistake here was trying to accommodate a ridiculous request.

  12. That chair is pretty beat up, the electronic driving console is off and a wheel missing. That’s considerable damage.

  13. What is stupid is that the people checking the $42,000 wheelchair, plus the United gate agents & ground crew loading the aircraft, didn’t 100% see this coming. That wheelchair should have been placed on an industrial pallet, secured down, padded, then remove the extruding parts, then shrinkwrapped before being put into the cargo section of the plane.

  14. These things happen. If the chair was so valuable, get insurance. Better yet, Fedex it across the pond, insured…obviously.

  15. Thanks Gary for exposing this outrageous action by United Airlines. They just don’t seem to care about how they treat their customers. This only emphasizes the need to allow the ME carriers to have more flight to and from the U.S. Competition is only way to raise the service bar otherwise they have absolutely no incentive to improve.

  16. Does anyone note how there are many posts about United having a pattern of problems, however things like DL ‘postponing’ flights for 14+ hours to say that there have been no cancellations just don’t get mentioned? UA starts a new method to try to better handle bumps, but again, no mention. I understand beatup on UA gets clicks right now, but statistically they have no more problems than ANY other US airline. Yes they ALL need to improve, but the drumbeat lately that UA is worse than Spirit (MILF SALE!) or some of the other airlines out there constantly is WAY over the top, and DEFINITELY not airplane news.

  17. I agree that United in many ways has become worse than Spirit Airlines. Their new basic economy fares are appalling and their slimline seats are just dangerous and outright unhealthy to sit in for hours. It’s apparent they care about nothing except $$$$. Even after being a 1K for more than a decade I’ll take SWA any day over UA.

  18. Mastro you are 100% correct a 550 lb wheel chair needs to be in a wooden box not with luggage. It should have been in the cargo hold in the same manner in which it was shipped to the user in, not like it was a beach ball.

    You do not check in a violin in a softcase so why would you check this in the same way?

  19. I am not affiliated with United in any way (aside from being a member of MileagePlus) yet I also think this is just another United bashing, clickbait post. For someone who worked in a political administration (and thus must certainly understand the frustration of un-constructive bashing), why not focus on the corporate culture changes needed over both airlines and unions over the long term, or on business operational challenges as presented by this scenario?

    I think it would be smart for all airlines to limit liability for items carried onboard in clear writing. I also agree with other commenters that such an expensive tool should not even be accepted by carriers unless special insurance surcharges have been purchased (i.e. like how other services like UPS, DHL, and FedEx do). Airlines could even limit liability based on fare class, to account for higher revenue passengers potential luggage tastes.

  20. Chances are the guy wasn’t expecting to have to separate from the wheel chair and United insisted that it be checked and then broke it. I think it’s just a case of careless employees who didn’t think that maybe someone depends on the wheelchair for mobility. At the end of the day it’s a customer service issue. Good customer service starts with good management and unfortunately United has neither.

  21. I truly understand the extreme inconvenience the young man suffered whilst on his trip, however, United Airlines and OTHER airlines unfortunately damage these assistive devices even as hard as they try not to. Loading this 550 lb. device is difficult and because the nature of the wheels, even if loaded in a special bin, the chair manages to move around. If the plane suffers extreme turbulence, there is even more opportunity to damage it.
    Jeff, on a personal response to your attempts to ONCE again, point out, OVER AND OVER again how unworthy we are of airline business, the media never reports the thousands of physical attacks on employees both on the ground and in the air. I have been physically threatened three times within the past five months working as a gate agent. I left the floor operation for 14 years and when I returned, I could not believe how horrible the flying public treats the frontline employees either by physical abuse or verbal abuse. Daily, our passengers throw out the FBOMB and say disgustingly crude things towards us. Our flight attendants, along with all other airline flight attendants, are physical accosted on a daily basis. Some being hit in the face suffering broken noses, grabbed hands and arms causing broken arms and wrists, and, lets not forget all the filthy names we are called on an hourly basis just for performing regular duties by our wonderful passengers. The flying public has become extremely hostile towards our employees and the news media RARELY publishes any of those inexcusable behaviors. I have worked with the public in several industries and having worked for Continental Airlines/United Airlines for over 20 years. I have never seen such horribly disrespectful, hateful and dangerous behavior as we have seen in the last year alone, much less the past 20 years. There is a growing movement for frontline airline employees to wear body cameras to record the dangerous behavior and just how much the public chides us on a daily basis. If you say you travel as much as you do, how about covering all of those incidents as well. What is fair is fair. Try, for once if you can, to muster up the honest coverage of a day in the life of the frontline airline employee and report on how dangerous our jobs have become. A faithful employee of a GREAT Airline.

  22. Boo boo, blame the wictim- there is a reason customers are angry- because the service is terrible , flying conditions are terrible. Poor innocent airline employees being abused- really? The customer is the one who is being abused and mistreated and the customer is the one who pays your salary

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