11:00 - 03 May 2003
A Disabled man who flew into Bristol International Airport, only to discover his wheelchair had been left behind in Italy, was told by airport staff he could not have a replacement. Gareth Lawes, a lecturer at the University of the West of England, returned late at night from a holiday to Venice when he discovered his wheelchair had not been loaded on to his flight by Italian baggage handlers.
Mr Lawes, who suffers from multiple sclerosis, was told it would be sent back on the next available plane, to arrive within 48 hours.
When he asked Bristol International Airport for a replacement wheelchair to allow him to get home he was told passengers were not allowed to take one home because of recent thefts.
Instead, he said, staff told him to call the Red Cross and ask for them to bring one to him, even though it was almost midnight.
Now the 55-year-old is demanding an apology from airport bosses.
Mr Lawes, from Cotham, was eventually allowed to take an airport wheelchair home, but only after paying a £50 deposit, which he said has not yet been returned.
He said: "We'd left our car at the airport but we had to have a wheelchair at the other end to get out and get into my flat.
"We arrived in Bristol at about 10.30pm and by the time we got to the baggage hall and they had told me the wheelchair had been left in Venice, it was getting on for 11.30pm.
"They originally said they couldn't let the wheelchairs go.
They said we could phone the Red Cross, which at 11.30pm at night was particularly unhelpful.
"Then they said that they would let a wheelchair go if we gave a £50 deposit, at which point I got very angry."
Mr Lawes said that, to add insult to injury, he had been told while he was being taken from the plane that the wheelchair being used then belonged to another passenger who was flying to Alicante, but the chair had been left behind.
He said he could not fault Easyjet, the operator of the Venice flight, as his own wheelchair was delivered to his own home by courier before noon the next day.
But he is still unhappy with the way airport staff treated him.
The airport's wheelchair was returned to Bristol International by the Easyjet courier - but Mr Lawes has not yet seen his deposit.
He said: "It's not like losing a bag, which is irritating. It's essential, fundamental.
"I want somebody to be helpful, and the suggestion that I would steal a wheelchair is insulting."
Airport operational facilities manager Phil Holder said: "Over the last year the airport has seen five wheelchairs stolen from its premises, therefore it was necessary to request a refundable deposit of £50 when he borrowed the wheelchair from us.
"We can confirm that a cheque has been sent to Mr Lawes to refund his
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