Family says disabled teenager's $40K custom-built wheelchair left destroyed after flight to Spain

Michelle Charlesworth Image
Monday, July 31, 2023
Teen's $40K custom wheelchair left destroyed after flight, family says
The family of a disabled teenager from New Jersey says the boy's custom-built wheelchair was destroyed on a recent trip to Spain. Michelle Charlesworth has the story.

WOODCLIFF LAKE, N.J. (WABC) -- The family of a disabled teenager from New Jersey is fighting not one, but two airlines after they say the boy's custom wheelchair was totaled on a recent trip to Spain.

Jonathan Lengel's family says they took every step necessary to ensure the $40,000 chair wasn't treated like any other piece of luggage.

They say they taped an instruction sheet to the wheelchair, clearly stating it should never be put on its side, but that's how it showed up on the conveyor belt when they arrived back at the airport in New York.

"It's my legs and when I had to leave it at the airport it felt like I was leaving part of my body behind," Jonathan said.

The wheelchair is custom-built for the17-year-old and he depends on it for his independence. It is custom-built for his body.

He's an actor who has appeared in two movies and had been in Spain for a college music program.

Jonathan and his family say they booked the roundtrip flight through American Airlines.

During the initial flight to Madrid on an American Airlines plane, they say the cushion for his chair was damaged.

Then when they flew home from Madrid on an Iberia plane, they found that the wheelchair was on its side, soaking wet from being left out in the rain and had been badly damaged.

Jonathan's father, Mark, said several large pieces of the wheelchair had broken off including the cover for the main circuit breaker.

"It's the equivalent of a car being in a very high-impact crash and a flood," Mark said.

"It's about 6 p.m. in Spain, it's summertime, and it's going to be difficult to answer you in time. We will write back with any information we can find out," Iberia said in a statement.

American Airlines saysthey are responsible only for the chair seat cushion damaged when the family flew in an American plane to Madrid.

"A member of our team has reached out to apologize and ensure their device is fully repaired," American Airlines said in a statement.

The family says that getting another custom chair will take at least six months and they still don't know who will pay for it.

"I'm very beside myself because like, that's been my legs," Jonathan said.


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