Who is Gabrielle DeFiebre? Disabled woman cries as Delta Airlines breaks her wheelchair, TikTok video goes viral
A woman with a disability was seen breaking down in tears in a viral TikTok video after Delta Airlines employees allegedly broke her wheelchair.
TikToker Bri Scalesse uploaded a video on Friday, May 21, which went viral. It showed her friend, Gabrielle DeFiebre, crying as a Delta employee was seen explaining something to her. “Today my heart broke watching my best friend sob because Delta broke her wheelchair,” read a text on Scalesse’s video. “She kept repeating ‘this is my life. This is the only way I can live my life.’ People in wheelchairs live in constant fear of airlines breaking our wheelchairs because it happens so often. I am so tired of watching my community suffer." The video has been liked over 2 million times and viewed more than 13 million times since being posted.
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'My wheel was warped and mangled'
A girl I know had her power-assist wheels for her wheelchair (that she needs to be independent) broken by Delta. This is an ongoing issue that has happened to countless people in chairs flying with different airlines. You can’t replace something custom made for you in a day. pic.twitter.com/yjYD5QmZ0l— Beak (@AstridLevinson) May 22, 2021
Speaking to the Daily Dot, DeFiebre said that her wheelchair was not broken when she handed it to the staff at John F Kennedy International Airport in New York. “My wheel was warped and mangled when I exited the plane in Phoenix,” she said. “As soon as I sat down in my chair and saw my wheels, I realized that something was wrong. The wheel was so warped that it was impossible to push because it would dig into the side of my leg instead of rolling straight.”
She added that she was not the only victim of airlines failing to care for wheelchairs which are indispensable for people with disabilities. On the flight in question, she was accompanied by a friend who was flying with a voucher she received from Delta after the airlines allegedly damaged her wheelchair on a previous occasion. DeFiebre said that she made sure to leave a note on how to handle her chair, However, it was of no help in this instance.
According to Newsweek, power-assist wheels, like the ones used by DeFiebre, are costly and are often customized specifically for the user, which means breaking them could mean that the user has to get it specially made again. Unfortunately, data from the US Department of Transformation's Monthly Air Travel Consumer report shows that airlines across the country have mishandled more than 300 wheelchairs and scooters belonging to passengers in just March alone. “Wheelchairs are an extension of someone’s body and required for them to be able to move about through the world. They are custom-made, expensive, and take months to get,” DeFiebre added.
Delta Airlines apologizes for breaking wheelchair
In an update shared by Scalesse on May 24, DeFiebre explained that Delta has agreed to pay for replacing the wheels they had damaged but that she has been forced to find temporary wheels while on her trip. "It was obviously devastating to get off the plane and see that my wheels had been completely destroyed. It happens all the time to people and it shouldn't be something that happens. Delta says they will cover the costs of the wheel replacement. While we're in Phoenix I was able to, through our amazing community, find someone who had an extra set of the exact same wheels and I've been able to use that while we're here," explained DeFiebre in the clip. "But when I get home, I will not have the wheels that I use to get around, so hoping that they get replaced soon. But again, this shouldn't happen to anyone in our community ever. It's unacceptable."
She accused the airline of also breaking her luggage but she was more concerned about her chair. A spokesperson for Delta Airlines told Newsweek: "We're so sorry that her wheelchair was damaged and have been in touch with her directly to make this right, including support to make repairs to her device. We know our customers with disabilities rely on Delta for their travel needs, and we fell short here. We're conducting a full investigation of what happened, because we must be better."