For many people who experience disabilities, traveling can be difficult. But an Anchorage woman who uses a wheelchair said what happened to her on a recent flight to Las Vegas made her experience much worse.

Kristie Lent and her husband Daniel flew on Alaska Airlines to Vegas on Oct. 31. Kristie, who has spina bifida and has used a wheelchair since the age of 13, said she considers her wheelchair "her legs." Lent said she gave careful instructions to the baggage handlers on how to safely load the $18,000 custom wheelchair in the baggage compartment, but apparently, they didn't listen.

When they got to Seattle to change flights, Lent said she was dismayed to find the wheelchair had suffered some damage. By the time they got to Vegas, she said it had been broken even more.

"It's a matter of listening to their passengers," Lent said. "Just like your body, I know my wheelchair better than anybody else. And if I tell you to load it a particular way than that's what I expect."

Alaska Airlines offered to rent Lent a wheelchair to use in Las Vegas. But she said finding one to meet her specialized needs would be difficult. Lent and her husband were able to patch hers together to the point where it was functional.

On the return flight to Anchorage, it was damaged even more.

"I don't have an extra wheelchair in my luggage, I can't run down to Walmart or the local medical supply store on my vacation," Lent said. "That's not how it works."

Under the federal Air Carrier Access Act, passengers can't be discriminated against because they require a medical device like a wheelchair. Airlines that damage wheelchairs are required to repair or replace them. But Lent says filing claims and other paperwork to get that action started has been both frustrating and time-consuming.

On Monday, more than a week after Lent had returned from her trip, Alaska Airlines authorized payment for the wheelchair to be repaired. They also offered her an apology and promised a full investigation into the incident.

"We are performing a full review and will take corrective action if we find we didn’t follow our policies and procedures," wrote Alaska Airlines spokesperson Tim Thompson. "We also have an external disability advisory board to help guide us in those policies and procedures."

Lent said the problem is industry-wide. She'd like to educate airlines that wheelchairs are more than just a piece of luggage that can be easily replaced.

"When you are talking about a piece of equipment that your life depends on, on a day-in-day-out basis, it's a different story," Lent said.

She wants the airlines to treat wheelchairs and people who experience disabilities with more respect.

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