• A man with a lung condition had to walk after waiting 30 minutes for airport wheelchair support.
  • Donald Willis told the Wall Street Journal he had to stop four or five times to use his inhaler. 
  • Disabled fliers have reported long waits and lost wheelchairs amid a summer of travel chaos. 

A Spirit Airlines passenger who requested wheelchair assistance to help him navigate Las Vegas airport said that he had to walk to his ride-share after support never showed up, despite waiting 30 minutes.

Donald Willis, 79, who suffers from the lung-condition emphysema flew from Orlando to Las Vegas in July, per the Wall Street Journal. His Spirit Airlines flight was delayed, and despite requesting wheelchair support, he waited for 30 minutes after landing for anyone to arrive.  

Eventually he decided to walk to his ride-share, Willis told the Wall Street Journal. He had to stop four to five times and use his inhaler, while holding his bag, per the paper. On his return leg, a single wheelchair assistant was responsible for him and two other passengers once he landed at Orlando Airport, per the Journal. 

A shortage of airport workers is making accounts like Willis' increasingly common during a summer of travel chaos defined by flight delays, cancellations and mountains of unclaimed baggage. 

Passengers requiring additional support have felt these shortages acutely at times, facing long waits, broken equipment and sometimes having to turn to aircrew for help

While assistance workers may work for a specific airline, they're commonly employed through a third-party company, in a similar way to baggage handlers and check-in agents. The added link in the chain can lead to miscommunication, or leave staff stretched if flight schedules change at short notice. 

Low pay and poor benefits have been highlighted as key reasons behind the staff shortages. "We're receiving our wages like we're in 1995," Ana Vasquez, a wheelchair assistant at Orlando International airport, told The Guardian in June. Vasquez earns $12 an hour with no paid time off, per the Guardian. 

US politicians are attempting to change this, with a bill proposed by Democratic Senators Ed Markey, Richard Blumenthal and Representative Chuy Garcia seeking to raise the minimum wage for airport workers to $15 an hour. The bill also wants to mandate benefits like paid time-off. It is currently under scrutiny by the Senate. 

Spirit Airlines told the Wall Street Journal that its airport services team is investigating Willis' complaint, the nature of which it takes seriously. 

The airline did not immediately respond to Insider's approach for comment, which was made outside of regular business hours. Willis could not immediately be reached for further comment.

Despite the challenges, some passengers have been looking to exploit the support system.

John Holland Kaye, the CEO of Heathrow Airport said that able-bodied passengers have been using a TikTok travel-hack, where they ask for wheelchair support, in order to mitigate airport queues. 

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