Paraplegic athlete "forced" to drag himself through airport after wheelchair was left behind

Paraplegic athlete "forced" to drag himself through airport after wheelchair was left behind

While there's no doubt that we all have our own challenges to overcome, those with a physical disability face more than most. For people like paraplegic athlete Justin Levene, simply getting from A to B can be difficult. The now 30-year-old's life was changed forever just two days before his 21st birthday when a coughing fit caused a herniated disk. Following a medical procedure which went drastically wrong, he was left paralyzed from the waist down. Needless to say, this would have taken a huge toll on Levene's mental health, but in spite of this, he worked hard to regain his independence and become a respected athlete.

However, when his wheelchair failed to arrive at London's Luton Airport, he was completely stripped of his independence. Staff failed to provide a suitable alternative and Levene was "forced" to maneuver his body through the airport without the proper aid. A friend filmed Levene's traumatic exit from the airport, and the resulting footage and images are an extremely upsetting and uncomfortable watch:

Levene told the BBC, "I've worked very hard for a number of years to try and maintain all of my independence."

When staff at the airport realized that Levene's customized wheelchair had not arrived, they offered him a rigid high-backed chair which not only has to be pushed by another person but also comes with the risk of causing sores during prolonged use. In response to this, he requested a motorized buggy instead, but there were none were available.

Credit: Justin Levene

So, rather than take the only available option and have someone else push him through the airport, Levene chose to maintain his independence by dragging himself out using only his hands - an experience which left him feeling "humiliated and degraded". Although, he said that he preferred this option rather than to allow the staff to "strap [him] down" in the high-backed chair.

What a lot of those who saw the now-viral video are unaware of is that the incident actually occurred about a year ago and Levene has since very quietly been petitioning for a change in policy to ensure Luton airport has the right provisions for all of their disabled passengers in future. Levene maintains, however, that over the course of the past year, the airport has "refused to acknowledge that they needed to do anything differently."

Find out more about why Levene chose to release the damning images against the "uncooperative" Luton Airport:

"I was angry that none of the staff seemed to understand the position or seemed to have any empathy for what was happening," he said, before adding, "There should be appropriate equipment in every single airport."

Credit: Justin Levene

"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," Levene said of the incident. "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."

Credit: Justin Levene

In a statement 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."

"Mr. Levene declined all offers of help as he deemed them unacceptable."

Credit: Justin Levene

"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 continued in its statement. 

Credit: Justin Levene

Justin is now suing Luton Airport over his treatment. According to the lawsuit, which he insists is not about money, all companies should offer disabled persons the means to independently get around and that it is not enough to simply offer transportation.