CHICAGO (CBS) — For most people, air travel spells adventure. But if you’re traveling with a wheelchair, it can also spell trouble.

CBS 2’s Roseanne Tellez says damage to wheelchairs is so frequent that some disabled flyers are calling it “wheelchair roulette.”

Kevin Sorci was returning from a 40th birthday trip to Las Vegas when his custom wheelchair was damaged by American Airlines. Although the airline provided him a loaner chair, “You realize how helpless you are,” Sorci said.

His very specialized chair took three months to repair. American paid for repairs. But after some research, Kevin learned this is fairly common problem.

Department of Transportation records show 341 wheelchairs were damaged by airlines in 2009 and 644 in 2008. 

“This chair has unfortunately become a part of me,” Sorci said. “I have to depend on my chair as if they were legs.”

Like manual wheelchairs, Sorci’s cost about $6,000. But some of the power chairs go for up to $50,000.

They offer mobility to people with all kinds of disabilities. But when they’re damaged by airlines, they can’t be easily replaced.

“Somebody really needs to enlighten them,” says Rick Green of Rehab Tech in Lombard.

His business has been repairing wheelchairs for 41 years. Green says airline workers need a crash course on how to properly stow the high-tech equipment.

“It would save them a lot of money on their end, as far as the airlines,” he said.

American Airlines says wheelchair damage is very rare.

Tellez says her son’s power wheelchair has been damaged several times over the last few years. The airlines were quick to provide loaners and pay for repairs, she reports.

But the issue really is finding a better way to stow the critical equipment so it doesn’t break in the first place and put lives on hold while people wait for repairs.