Air Travel Isn’t Truly Accessible:

CW: Death

The main terminal at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport now features a commercial “plane cabin” where travelers may practice putting luggage in overhead bins, inserting the buckle, and drawing the strap tight. The mock aircraft, which is now permanently stationed near Gate C16 in Terminal 1, will hold airport and public safety training exercises, as well as promote MSP programs that make traveling more comfortable for customers, particularly those with disabilities.

With the help of the education center, the Navigating MSP program will be able to offer prospective passengers with sensory, physical, or cognitive disabilities as well as those who are afraid of flying a place to practice boarding in a natural environment. Additionally, it will allow service dogs to become acclimated to an airplane cabin.

While this effort will prove helpful, air travel still isn’t fully accessible. Since the end of 2018, the country’s top airlines have lost or damaged at least 15,425 wheelchairs or scooters. 10,548 wheelchairs or scooters were lost, damaged, delayed, or stolen in 2019, the first full year of reporting. That works out to about 29 each day. By 2020, it had fallen to 3,464, or 9.5 per day. Passengers reported 712 mishandled devices, or nearly eight per day, in the first quarter of 2021.

Damaged equipment can have devastating, deadly consequences. Engracia Figueroa, a prominent advocate for disability rights, died on October 31st, 2021, at 51. Figueroa went to the Washington, DC, rally for Care Can’t Wait in July.

At the Care Can’t Wait protest, Figueroa represented Hand in Hand, and Hand in Hand reported her passing. The Hand in Hand network, which promotes improved working conditions for domestic workers like nannies, housecleaners, and home attendants, was one that Figueroa frequently collaborated with.

After returning to Los Angeles, Figueroa discovered that United Airlines employees had accidentally damaged her wheelchair. The wheelchair, which cost $30,000, had been placed in the cargo hold, where it was destroyed. Figueroa’s wheelchair was specially made to support her body because she had suffered a spinal injury and had to have one of her legs amputated. Figueroa had trouble sitting up and balancing without her wheelchair.

Figueroa developed a pressure sore that grew worse due to having to use a wheelchair that didn’t support her torso and hips. This sore became infected, and the infection spread to her hip bone. Figueroa underwent emergency surgery to save her life, but she ultimately passed away.

It’s 2022, and air travel should be accessible for people with various disabilities. Without accessible air travel, people with disabilities miss out on attending events, going on vacations, and even medical care. We shouldn’t have to risk our expensive equipment being damaged, and we certainly shouldn’t have to risk our lives to fly on an airplane.


Brooks, Laken. “Disability Advocate Engracia Figueroa Died after an Airline Damaged Her Wheelchair.” Forbes, Forbes Magazine, 9 Nov. 2021,

Nelson, Tim. “Twin Cities Airport Installs Mock Aircraft Cabin to Help Travelers Gain Confidence.” MPR News, MPR News, 24 May 2022,

Sampson, Hannah. “Airlines Have Lost or Damaged More than 15,000 Wheelchairs since Late 2018.” The Washington Post, WP Company, 8 June 2021,

1 comment

  1. What a horrible tragedy to lose a dedicated advocate from a preventable health condition due to negligence.

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