Delta Forgets Custom Wheelchair of Man Going From JFK to Dublin; Destroys Parts on Flight Home

Leonard Zhukovsky /

It’s inconvenient enough when an airline forgets your luggage on a flight. It’s even worse when it’s on an overseas flight, and your bags can be delayed for a day or more.

In Tim Kelly’s case, this wasn’t just a checked bag, but his gate-checked custom-made wheelchair. Checking the chair at the gate, Kelly sat on the plane till everyone else had deplaned and waited for his chair to get off himself. His chair never came. Speaking with Insider, Kelly told the ordeal of his trip.

“Being a wheelchair user, you’re always the last person off the plane, so they were just waiting for my chair to come up. And then they said, ‘We don’t have your chair’. It seems as if my chair was tagged by the gate agent, but she never scanned the tag. So, my name was never attached to the chair, it seems, or my destination.”

This kind of misstep is something Delta isn’t exactly known for but given their recent issues with short staffing just like every other airline, this kind of mistake seems to be becoming more frequent. While gate agents initially thought his chair had gone to luggage, upon a check, it became clear that the chair never made it to Dublin. While Delta apologized for the incident and claimed that they take the responsibility of these chairs to be a tremendous responsibility, they kept making mistakes.

Delta, in turn, provided Kelly with a chair that lacked push rims, leaving him reliant on someone else to move him along. After some time, the staff at JFK contacted Kelly and let him know his chair had been located and it would be on the next flight to Dublin. Given their flight schedules, he should have had his chair the next morning.

Unfortunately, the next morning came, and at 9 am, in Dublin, they contacted Kelly to tell him that they again did not have his chair. They had elected to send the chair on to Boston since the flight from there would have gotten Kelly his chair an hour earlier than JFK would have. For some reason, the ground crew in Boston never got it on the plane to Dublin.

With this situation playing out as it did, Kelly considered flying back to get his spare chair, and then returning. This would have been a 6,000-mile round trip. He also found himself having a tough time getting around the city. “I had a hard enough time just going two blocks on Sunday night to go to a restaurant.” When his chair failed to show up again, Delta offered him an electric chair for his trip, something Kelly said was “not me”.

With both Kelly and Delta reaching out to a company in Dublin that carries his brand of chairs, he was able to get a chair until his showed up. Delta covered the cost, of $700 for the two days. While all seemed well at that point, upon returning to New York, baggage handlers had destroyed one of his hand brakes on the chair. While he admitted the part was easily broken and was easily fixed, Delta again did foot the bill in this instance.

Kelly credited the staff in Dublin for doing everything they could for him. They offered Kelly, his wife, and their two children each $1,000 in Delta Choice vouchers, and staff on the plane and in the airport passed along 37,500 SkyMiles for his troubles. This isn’t enough, in Kelly’s opinion. Delta did offer another 20,000 miles as a “goodwill gesture”, but he wants to squeeze them for all he can.

“I’m going to squeeze them hard,” said Kelly.

Given the 60,000 miles per person ticket cost for a mid-August flight, he should be getting every drop of this he can. Recovering the ticket cost in money or miles should be the least Delta can do.

Is customer service in the flight industry dying?