Fairfax Falcons

Coaches Say Airline Damaged Several Basketball Players' Wheelchairs

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A coed wheelchair basketball team can’t practice or play in any games after seven of their chairs were damaged by airline baggage handlers, coaches say.

It happened two weeks ago as the Fairfax Falcons were returning from a tournament, and it was an experience they call humiliating.

Wheelchairs have to be stowed, and getting onto the plane takes a special chair.

When the Fairfax Falcons landed in Dallas April 3, they found more than half of the team’s chairs were damaged, which put their connecting flight home at risk.

“I was just really shocked to be honest with you,” said Kareem Abdus-Salaam, whose son plays on the team.

“The damages ranged from actually bent frames, broken wheels, where the wheels were inoperable, locked axles,” he said.

At one point a player got into a chair only to have it collapse, Abdus-Salaam said.

“It was not only embarrassing, it was really traumatic. That was his first time ever flying,” he said.

“We’ve met with all of the parents and tried to work through this and canceled practices the rest of the month,” coach Kevin Buckles said.

He said replacing a damaged sports chair is not as simple as going to the store.

“American Airlines has apologized profusely over this event and replacing some of the chairs, but for us as coaches, what’s going to happen moving forward? What kind of training do you have your employees going through?” Buckles said.

Abdus-Salaam says the pilot of the connecting flight home was a hero and held the plane at the gate until everyone was on board safe and sound.

Three years ago, the News4 I-Team reported on complaints passengers with disabilities have filed against U.S. airlines. The problems persist.

According to an air travel consumer report, 641 wheelchairs or motorized scooters were mishandled in January alone.

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