A man paralyzed from the waist down is suing London’s Luton airport after his custom-made self-propelling wheelchair was left behind on a flight, causing him to drag himself through the airport terminal.
The incident took place when paraplegic athlete Justin Levene, 29, arrived at the airport August 2017 and learned his wheelchair was not there to meet him.
Though airport staff offered to push him through the terminal in a traditional high-backed wheelchair, Levene declined, calling the suggestion degrading and dangerous if he were strapped down.
“I’ve worked very hard for a number of years to try and maintain all of my independence,” Levene said to BBC. “And to be in one of the chairs they were offering would make me feel humiliated and degraded.”
Levene – who was paralyzed at age 20 when a surgery to fix a herniated disc went wrong – asked if he could be transported via motorized car, but the airport did not have one, BBC reported.
“There should be appropriate equipment in every single airport,” he told the BBC.
“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,” he added.
After denying the airport’s wheelchair, Levene felt dragging himself through the airport was his only option – and for that he is suing the airport, claiming the staff had no “empathy for what was happening.”
Leven was filmed sliding himself through the airport terminal and lifting himself onto a baggage cart, which he used to push himself to a taxi out front.
The airport has defended itself in a statement to the BBC, saying its staff reacted properly given the circumstances.
“While we apologize 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,” the airport said.
“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,” the statement continued. “Mr. Levene declined all offers of help as he deemed them unacceptable.”
Other athletes and celebrities who use wheelchairs – as well as those on Twitter who are not disabled – have come out in support of Levene.
Though some feel Levene’s choices were “arrogant” and offensive to the disabled community.
Levene is represented by lawyer Sue Willman.
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