Iowa women are considering legal action after airline forgets and then damages their electric wheelchairs

Two Iowa women say their wheelchairs were damaged or broken after a flight in September, and now they want to make sure no one else in their position ever has to go through what they did again. Harlee Drury and Heather Reimers, along with friend Brianna Boner, were traveling to Houston for a concert in September when they said they ran into trouble. Drury has muscular dystrophy so she can’t walk. Reimers has brittle bone disease. “If someone drops me who isn’t trained to lift me, that could be my last straw,” Reimers said. Both Drury and Reimers have electric wheelchairs which they consider their legs. When the three friends left Des Moines for their trip, both Drury and Reimers arranged to have their wheelchairs waiting for them at the Houston gate, which they would reach after catching their connecting flight in Dallas. However, when they arrived in Houston, their wheelchairs were nowhere to be seen. “They taxied us to the American Airline counter and apologized for why they couldn’t take them there,” said Reimers, who also said she and her friends tried to offer solutions, like putting her in a FedEx vehicle or her to get on the next flight. “All the answers were ‘no, we can’t. No, we can’t. The best we can do with a flight is at 9am tomorrow morning.” Drury, Reimers and Boner had to book a hotel at the airport instead of going to the one already booked. Boner says she had to act as her caretaker. “I would do it in a heartbeat, but that’s something the airline should have figured out,” Boner said. “I had to take her to the bathroom. I had to put her to bed. They can usually do this in their wheelchairs. It’s almost disheartening that they were just written off.” Reimers tells KCCI that they had to call the American Airlines counter in the morning and go there themselves to look for their wheelchairs. Instead of at the gate, it was at the baggage claim. That’s where they found the wheelchairs. Reimers says hers is broken and Drury’s is scratched. “My controller at the time was broken and damaged. I proceeded to confront the gentleman at the desk and his solution to help me was to zip tie and tape the controller together so we could exit the airport and then file complaints with American Airlines,” Reimers said. Reimers says they sent someone a few hours later to try and fix it with a bolt, but she still had to have it fixed when she got back. The wheelchairs cost between $15,000 and $20,000. The women say American Airlines tried to pay them $500 in compensation, but that’s not what they want. They want to change something so that no one else has to have a similar experience. “If we don’t use our voice to make that change, they won’t do it,” Drury said of airlines. That brought her to Michael Marquess, a Marshalltown attorney. Marquess said the Department of Transportation has a bill for people with disabilities that he says hasn’t been followed in this situation. “It requires airlines in particular – when they provide public accommodation – to ensure that people who rely on these types of mobility devices have them available immediately after landing and that they are not damaged,” Marquis said. “In addition, if there are problems, that the reaction is immediate and appropriate. All of that was missing here.” KCCI approached American Airlines. However, American Airlines has not responded to KCCI’s repeated attempts to comment. Marquess says he and the young women are in the process of putting together a complaint for legal purposes.

Two Iowa women say their wheelchairs were damaged or broken after a flight in September, and now they want to make sure no one else in their position ever has to go through what they did again.

Harlee Drury and Heather Reimers, along with friend Brianna Boner, were traveling to Houston for a concert in September when they said they ran into trouble. Drury has muscular dystrophy so she can’t walk. Reimers has brittle bone disease.

“If someone drops me who isn’t trained to lift me, that could be my last straw,” Reimers said.

Both Drury and Reimers have electric wheelchairs that they mistake for their legs.

When the three friends left Des Moines for their trip, both Drury and Reimers arranged to have their wheelchairs waiting for them at the Houston gate, which they would reach after catching their connecting flight in Dallas.

However, when they arrived in Houston, their wheelchairs were nowhere to be seen.

“They taxied us to the American Airline counter and apologized for why they couldn’t take them there,” said Reimers, who also said she and her friends tried to offer solutions, like putting her in a FedEx vehicle or her to get on the next flight. “All the answers were ‘no, we can’t. No, we can’t. The best we can do with a flight is tomorrow morning at 9am.”

Drury, Reimers and Boner had to book a hotel at the airport instead of going to the one already booked. Boner says she had to act as her caretaker.

“I would do it in a heartbeat, but that’s something the airline should have figured out,” Boner said. “I had to take her to the bathroom. I had to put her to bed. They can usually do this in their wheelchairs. It’s almost disheartening that they were just written off.”

Reimers tells KCCI that they had to call the American Airlines counter in the morning and go there themselves to look for their wheelchairs. Instead of at the gate, it was at the baggage claim. That’s where they found the wheelchairs. Reimers says hers is broken and Drury’s is scratched.

“My controller at the time was broken and damaged. I proceeded to confront the gentleman at the desk and his solution to help me was to zip tie and tape the controller together so we could exit the airport and then file complaints with American Airlines,” Reimers said.

Reimers says they sent someone a few hours later to try and fix it with a bolt, but she still had to have it fixed when she got back.

The wheelchairs cost between $15,000 and $20,000.

The women say American Airlines tried to pay them $500 in compensation, but that’s not what they want.

They want to change something so that no one else has to have a similar experience.

“If we don’t use our voice to make that change, they won’t do it,” Drury said of airlines.

That brought her to Michael Marquess, a Marshalltown attorney. Marquess said the Department of Transportation has a bill for people with disabilities that he says hasn’t been followed in this situation.

“It requires airlines in particular – when they provide public accommodation – to ensure that people who rely on these types of mobility devices have them available immediately after landing and that they are not damaged,” Marquis said. “In addition, if there are problems, that the reaction is immediate and appropriate. All of that was missing here.”

KCCI has approached American Airlines. However, American Airlines has not responded to KCCI’s repeated attempts to comment.

Marquess says he and the young women are in the process of putting together a complaint for legal purposes.

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