A paraplegic athlete who dragged himself through London’s Luton Airport after his self-propelling wheelchair was left behind on a flight is now suing the airport.
- Wheelchair athlete Justin Levene refused high-backed wheelchair because it removed his independence
- He is suing Luton Airport for not providing staff adequate disability equality and awareness training
- Luton Airport says in a statement it was satisfied with its response
Justin Levene is an international wheelchair marathon athlete from London, who was left paralysed below the waist and reliant on his wheelchair after an operation to fix a herniated disc went wrong.
But upon finding his self-propelled wheelchair had not arrived with him at Luton Airport in August last year, staff offered to push Levene through the airport on a high-backed chair — one he could not push himself.
He refused the assistance, saying he felt it removed his independence.
Justin Levene posts on Instagram The adventure continues and this time I didn’t have to crawl! Spent an amazing day in Jujuy and Purmamarca where I got to see the 7 coloured mountains. Pictures will never do this place justice
Levene asked if he could instead be transported in a motorised buggy, but Luton did not have one.
Now he is suing Luton Airport, telling the BBC that without his wheelchair, his independence “was no longer there”.
“I’ve worked very hard for a number of years to try and maintain all of my independence,” he said.
“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.”
Footage shows Levene using his hands to move himself along the terminal’s floor, squeezing past other passengers before using a luggage trolley to make his way to a taxi outside the 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,” he said.
On his Instagram profile, Levene describes himself as a disability rights activist.
‘No empathy’ for need for independence
Levene’s athletics career has seen him travel around the globe, and he said he had never faced a situation like the one he found himself in at Luton, dragging himself across the floor for long distances.
He said he felt “humiliated” and staff were not able to empathise with his need for independence.
“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.
“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.”
He is now suing the airport, saying it did not give adequate disability-equality-and-awareness training to staff responsible for providing mobility assistance.
Luton Airport said in a statement it was satisfied with its response.
“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 said.
“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.”