United passenger speaking (l) United Airlines seat (c) United passenger in seat (r)

EQRoy/Shutterstock @karleexrosee/TikTok (Licensed) Remix by Caterina Cox

‘You don’t realize these are literally my legs’: United passenger says airline wouldn’t properly accommodate her wheelchair

'Wheelchairs aren't a new thing. Why don't they have this figured out yet???'


Adrienne Hunter


Posted on May 19, 2023

A passenger claimed that United Airlines failed to properly store her wheelchair, offer required preboarding, and provide accessible seating—all on the same flight. 

On May 17, Karlee Rose (@karleexrosee) posted multiple TikToks displaying United Airlines’ alleged lack of accessibility accommodation as a wheelchair user. The initial video received over 393,000 views as of May 19.

@karleexrosee @United Airlines ♬ original sound – Karlee Rose

She also posted a follow-up video providing additional details on the situation.

According to the follow-up, Rose booked her flight the day before departure. The day of, she asked the airline desk for her ticket to be moved to an aisle seat. Per U.S. Department of Transportation policy, her seat was moved. 

She then asked for her wheelchair to be stored in the cabin. Per U.S. Department of Transportation policy, a carrier “must ensure that there is priority space in the cabin of sufficient size to stow at least one typical adult-sized folding, collapsible, or break-down manual passenger wheelchair, the dimensions of which are 13 inches by 36 inches by 42 inches or less without having to remove the wheels or otherwise disassemble it.” 

Rose later stated that her wheelchair does not “squeeze.” It is unclear if her wheelchair breaks down without disassembly and is required to receive priority storage.

When Rose asked that the wheelchair be stored in the cabin, the flight attendants said they had to check the wheelchair in with the rest of the luggage. 

Then, the airline began boarding other passengers before she was boarded. According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, a carrier “​​must offer preboarding to passengers with a disability who self-identify at the gate as needing additional time or assistance to board, stow accessibility equipment, or be seated.” 

Rose said this made the boarding process “awkward” and “rushed” because people had to stand and wait while she was transferred to her seat.

She stated that being transferred into her seat was difficult as the armrest would not move, and she had to be lifted into her seat. The U.S. Department of Transportation also requires that a “new aircraft with 30 or more seats must have movable aisle armrests on half the aisle seats in the aircraft.” It is unclear if this requirement applies to the plane Rose was on.

Once in her seat, Rose asked the flight attendant if they could avoid squeezing the wheelchair to prevent damage, as her wheelchair “doesn’t squeeze together.” Rose claimed she was met with rudeness when she made this request. 

The concern of damage being made to wheelchairs is well-founded, as airlines have an extensive history of mishandling wheelchairs. According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, 767 wheelchairs were reported to be mishandled by airline carriers in February 2023. 

In the past, United Airlines has even lost wheelchairs altogether. 

The comments on Rose’s initial video echoed her frustration.

“People do not understand how expensive wheelchairs are & how important it is to have it near you,” one commenter wrote.

“My dad is a paraplegic and we had to learn the hard way,” a second remarked. “They’ve broken his chair along the way.”

After the flight, Rose posted an additional video showing her waiting for assistance off the plane once all the other passengers had left.

“Paralyzed girl things is being the last person off an airplane waiting for wheelchair,” she wrote in a text overlay.

The Daily Dot contacted United Airlines via email and Rose via TikTok direct message for further information. 

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*First Published: May 19, 2023, 8:07 pm CDT