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Human Interest

United Airlines ‘Destroys’ Man’s Custom $42,000 Wheelchair During Trip from France to the U.S.

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Valentin Duthion (center) with friends
Dream Trotter

United Airlines is in more hot water after employees allegedly “destroyed” a custom wheelchair belonging to a 24-year-old man who suffers from a severe spinal condition.

Valentin Duthion, a France native, set off on a New Jersey-bound flight from Europe on July 2 with a group of friends and left his custom, 550 lb., approximately $42,000 chair in the care of airline staff, Duthion’s sister, Lucie, told Le Progrès.

“This is how @united airline accompanies people with disabilities,” Lucie tweeted alongside a video of the damaged chair. “Armchair destroyed (37,000€), trip to the USA wasted. Shameful #RT.”

The footage showed pieces of the chair broken off and its wheels contorted.

Duthion has spinal muscular atrophy and requires the use of the mechanical wheelchair to get around, Lucie told Le Progrès. The Duthions and a group of friends planned the 27-day U.S. trip for months before setting off, and even documented their plight on Facebook.

In a statement to PEOPLE, United Airlines officials said they have been in touch with the group, arranging for the chair’s repair and upgrading the group’s return flight.

“We have been in contact with our customer, and have provided him with a loaner wheelchair to use during his vacation,” officials said in the statement.

However, the friends said that the chair does not meet Duthion’s needs.

“Val will not have his chair until the end of the day,” the group wrote in French in a Facebook update. “We have a loan chair, but Val doesn’t fit in that. He can’t drive it.”

Lucie added to the French publication: “If we refused, we had to sign a waiver stating that we refused the help of United Airlines,” she said.

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The group noted on Facebook that Duthion likely wouldn’t have his repaired chair until the end of their trip, making the group’s travels difficult.

Despite the setback, the group has been determined to enjoy the trip. Duthion and his friends have shared smiling photos of themselves in front of the Empire State Building, enjoying fireworks on the Fourth of July and more.

The incident comes just months after Dr. David Dao was forcibly dragged off an overbooked United flight.