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Paraplegic athlete Justin Levene 'forced' to drag himself through Luton Airport after wheelchair was left behind on flight

Evening Standard logo Evening Standard 11/2/2018 Nick Charity
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A paraplegic man is suing Luton Airport after dragging himself hundreds of yards in "humiliation" when his wheelchair was left on a flight.

Footage shows Justin Levene, from north London, battling to move through the airport on his hands as other passengers seem oblivious.

He is now suing over the incident, which happened in August 2017. However a spokesman for Luton Airport said he was offered assistance and turned it down.

The 30-year-old was left paralysed 10 yeas ago after herniated a spinal disc during a coughing fit, but after an operation to correct his injury went wrong and he lost the ability to walk.

a group of people standing next to a person: justin-levene-5.jpg © Provided by Independent Digital News & Media Limited justin-levene-5.jpg
Paraplegic athlete Justin Levene had to drag his legs through Luton Airport after staff left his wheelchair abroad. (Justin Levene)

The disability rights activist and wheelchair racer has since travelled the world completing marathons and is a trainer and mentor to others who use wheelchairs.

In the images released on Friday he is shown pulling himself across the airport on his hands. He even climbed onto a baggage trolley as he battled to get to his taxi.

A Luton Airport spokesman staff offered to give him an assisted wheelchair, which requires someone to push it, but he refused to accept it.

Mr Levene said he was angry when he was told his custom-made wheelchair had been left behind, and said he felt as though staff had denied him his independence.

He told the Standard: "When I arrived in Luton from Croatia they told me my wheelchair was left behind and there was no available equipment to use.

"What they offered me wasn't a wheelchair - these things are on shopping trolley wheels.

"There is no way you can propel yourself on one, you have to be pushed on someone else, and that's what this was all about. Its humiliating to be pushed around.

"Someone who isn't aware of what it's like to use a wheelchair won't understand how important your independence is to you. It was humiliating."

a man standing on the floor: justine-levene-1.jpg © Provided by Independent Digital News & Media Limited justine-levene-1.jpg
The competitive hand cyclist said he was humiliated by the idea of being pushed in a wheelchair and losing his independence, which he has earned in the 10 years since he was paralysed form the waist down. (Justin Levene)

He said he asked for a motorised buggy but the airport didn't have one, so pulling his legs along the floor was only option.

Mr Levene added: "The other thing is what were they expecting me to do when I got home? Other airports have equipment that people can take home with them in these situations."

Mr Levene said he has competed in most of the major international marathons and hand cycling races and does a lot of fundraising work for charity.

He is currently raising to build a school in Moldova for orphans and victims fo sex trafficking, where scores of children are affected with disabilities.

He said: "I work with them to build that same ability to live independently, and show them there can be a way forward after what they've been through."

justin-levene-4.jpg © Provided by Independent Digital News & Media Limited justin-levene-4.jpg
Mr Levene climbed onto a baggage trolley to complete the final distance of his painstaking crawl to reach a taxi rank. (Justin Levene)

London Luton Airport said it has not been served any legal proceedings by Mr Levene, and its special assistance service was given a rating of "good" by the Civil Aviation Authority.

A spokesman added: "On discovering that Mr Levene’s flight from Croatia had arrived without his wheelchair, in August 2017, 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.

"Whilst 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.

Sue Willman, a partner at Justin's solicitors, Deighton Pierce Glynn, said the case "isn't really about money, it's about access to justice", the BBC reported.

"It's time for Luton Airport and other transport providers to be a bit more imaginative and enable disabled people to travel on equal terms with non-disabled passengers," she added.


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