Shocking images have emerged online of a paraplegic passenger who was left ‘humiliated’ after Luton airport failed to provide him with suitable transport, after his self-propelling wheelchair was left behind on a flight.
Film footage of Justin Levene, a wheelchair athlete, shows him pulling himself along the floor and fashioning a luggage trolley as a makeshift alternative. Other passengers appear oblivious to his situation.
Staff had offered to push Levene on a high-backed wheelchair but he refused as he felt it removed his independence.
Now, Justin is suing Luton airport, which says it’s satisfied with its response.
Almost 10 years after becoming paralysed below the waist – after a failed surgery to fix a herniated disc at the age of 20 – Levene is an international wheelchair athlete, trainer and mentor to disabled athletes.
In August 2017, he arrived on a flight at Luton airport to find his custom-made wheelchair had been left behind.
Refusing to be pushed by staff, on the basis he found it degrading, he asked if he could be transported by a motorised buggy. Luton airport does not have one.
Speaking to the BBC, Levene said:
I’ve worked very hard for a number of years to try and maintain all of my independence, and to be in one of the chairs they were offering would make me feel humiliated and degraded.
They insisted in trying to strap me down in it. I wouldn’t have been able to adjust myself, and would have been at risk of getting a pressure sore.
Without the possibility of a motorised buggy, Levene said he was left with just one option: to drag himself hundreds of yards through the airport.
From the exit of the terminal, Justin pulled himself onto a luggage trolley and used his hands to push his way to the taxi rank.
With his career taking him around the world, Levene acknowledges mistakes can happen and wheelchairs can be left behind. However he has never faced a situation like the one at Luton airport.
Every single airport I’ve been to, no matter where it is, no matter how small the airport may have been, there has always been some form of equipment, whether it has been a self-propelled wheelchair or a buggy
Justin is suing Luton airport, saying it did not give staff adequate disability equality and awareness training to those responsible for providing mobility assistance.
The airport said in a statement:
On discovering that Mr Levene’s flight had arrived without his wheelchair, our teams worked hard to find a solution, offering Mr Levene an assisted wheelchair as a temporary replacement.
Mr Levene declined all offers of help as he deemed them unacceptable.
While we apologise if Mr Levene was dissatisfied with the service he received, we are satisfied that our agents and staff did all they could in difficult circumstances.
Justin however isn’t satisfied, saying he ‘felt humiliated’.
I was angry that none of the staff seemed to understand the position or seemed to have any empathy for what was happening
There should be appropriate equipment in every single airport.
If something does happen, no-one should be put in the position that they are forced to crawl through the airport or drag themselves along the floor.
And there should be some form of equipment to move themselves independently. Someone whose chair is their legs shouldn’t be forced to be reliant on others for help.
Sue Willman, a partner at the law firm representing Justin said: ‘[the case] isn’t really about money, it’s about access to justice’.
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Tim Horner is a sub-editor at UNILAD. He graduated with a BA Journalism from University College Falmouth before most his colleagues were born. A previous editor of adult mags, he now enjoys bringing the tone down in the viral news sector.