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Pittsburgh Athlete Says Airline Returned His Wheelchair Bent, Unstable And Unsafe After Flight

PITTSBURGH (KDKA) -- What happened to the wheelchair of a local athlete is sadly not unique.

He and other advocates are asking why airlines can't do any better for them.

Lee Tempest was pumped for his team's upcoming basketball tournament in Las Vegas. It was the first time the Pittsburgh Steelwheelers, an adaptive sports organization for athletes in wheelchairs, would travel by air for a game.

wheelchair broken
(Photo Credit: KDKA)

"The chair stuff needs to be handled with care," Tempest said. "It happens too often."

Advocates say traveling by air in a wheelchair is challenging enough already. The chairs don't fit down the plane's aisle, so chair users need to transfer to an aisle chair to get seated. The wheelchairs are then stored in the plane's bulkhead.

"It takes a significant amount of force to bend the front of these chairs, it really does," Tempest said. "They are designed to really take a beating."

Lee described it as a scary, sickening feeling as he was getting off his Spirit Airlines flight with his team to see his chair returned bent, virtually unusable and unsafe.

"This happens to people every single day, which is just infuriating," said Tempest's wife Rachel Hibbs.

Hibbs was one of Lee's physical therapists. They married last year, and together they're teaming up and asking airlines to "do better" for people with mobility issues.

"The airlines are not exempt from ADA but the airplane is," Lee said.

According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, 846 wheelchairs were damaged by airlines in November of last year. Airlines are obligated to fix or replace wheelchairs under the Air Carrier Access Act.

Tempest said it will take months before a wheelchair can be customized for him. KDKA-TV reached out to Spirit Airlines but did not hear back.

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