A TikTok star called out Delta for breaking her wheelchair on a flight, a systemic issue airlines keep ignoring

Two screenshots from Bri Scalesse's TikTok videos next to a photo of her in her wheelchair
A composite image showing Bri Scalesse in a TikTok video (left) next to a full-body shot (right) of her with the wheelchair which was later broken in transit. Bri Scalesse/Tik Tok/Insider
  • A model and disability advocate called out Delta for breaking her wheelchair in transit.
  • Bri Scalesse said the chair was irreparably damaged en route from St Paul to Newark on July 4.
  • Airlines damage thousands of wheelchairs a year, a problem companies have been slow to address.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

A TikTok star and disability advocate called out Delta Air Lines in a viral post for breaking her wheelchair in transit and ruining her trip.

Bri Scalesse told Insider that the “dehumanizing” experiences highlights a recurring problem where airlines don’t take care with wheelchairs and end up causing problems for disabled passengers.

Scalesse, a model and disability advocate, handed her chair over to airport staff when she took flight 3737 from St Paul, Minnesota, to Newark, New Jersey, on July 4.

She said she had been in the Midwest for a wedding with her boyfriend. But after the flight home, she realized that her chair had been irreparably damaged.

In a TikTok video filmed shortly after the flight, Scalesse told her 478,000 followers that “Today my freedom and independence was taken away, and I don’t know how I’m going to live my life”.

@briscalesse @delta today I’m losing my independence only 6 weeks after my best friend lost hers. How. How. How.

♬ original sound – briscalesse

She told Insider that her boyfriend first noticed the damage to the chair, when one of its caster wheels (a small front wheel that helps the chair maneuver) no longer touched the ground.

The frame had buckled, leaving the break pushing on the wheel. The balance was off as well, leaving Scalesse tilting to one side as she sat in the chair. The damage had left the chair essentially unusable.

“I just immediately went into shock,” Scalesse told Insider.

She said that Delta staff referred her to baggage services, which she described as “dehumanizing” given how vital the chair is to her.

“This happens because our wheelchairs are really treated like luggage, not as an extension of our bodies,” she said.

“And I think that’s where kind of the beginning of the problem starts is that they’re not seen as a part of us, our wheelchairs, and our medical devices aren’t seen as a part of us.”

In a statement to Insider, Delta said that its staff “consider a wheelchair as an extension of a person,” and said that it was talking to Scalesse about what happened.

Scalesse said that problems like this are common for disabled people. In her TikTok she said: “I want to, my community want to, experience the world, we want to travel, and we don’t want to be afraid that at the end of a flight our freedom won’t be there”.

One of Scalesse’s friends had the same thing happen to her. GG deFiebre’s chair was broken – also by Delta – on a May trip from New York to Phoenix, which Scalesse also highlighted in a viral TikTok post that was viewed 17 million times.

@briscalesse @delta today I’m losing my independence only 6 weeks after my best friend lost hers. How. How. How.

♬ original sound – briscalesse

Scalesse told Insider that deFiebre is still waiting on the repairs to her chair seven weeks later because of errors by the repair company.

Scalesse told Insider: “I do believe that it’s not an individual problem, or an individual person problem, or even an individual airline problem. I think it’s a deeper systemic issue. 26 wheelchairs are damaged a day by airlines in America.”

A photo of Bri Scalesse and Gigi DeFiebre smiling at the camera
and Gigi DeFiebre are working to highlight the realities of travelling in a wheelchair Bri Scalesse

“It just blows my mind that this can keep happening with no changes being made… whether that’s a specific area for medical devices under the plane, or, what I think most people would love is to have our chairs on the planes with us, even if that’s not us in them, to have them strapped somewhere on the plane.”

US Department of Transportation figures show that thousands of wheelchairs and scooters per year are damaged on flights, with 10,548 damaged in 2019, as Insider’s Talia Lakritz reported.

In a statement to Insider regarding the breaking of Bri Scalesse’s wheelchair, Delta said: “We consider a wheelchair as an extension of a person and understand that any mishandling of this mobility device directly impacts their daily living. We are affirmatively working with the customer to understand what occurred.

“We are proactively working with our Advisory Board on Disability and our cross divisional operations teams to continuously improve the travel experience for our customers with disabilities.”