Paraplegic stuck in hotel room after airline loses his wheelchair

Meghan Lawrence, NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Thursday, 28 December 2017, 10:52a.m.

For paraplegic Silice Karito a holiday in New Zealand was a trip of a lifetime, but his first three days in the country have been anything but.

Karito, from Surrey in the United Kingdom, flew with Emirates from Gatwick Airport in London to Auckland, via Dubai, on Christmas Eve for a holiday with family friend Fiona McManus and her two daughters.

After a difficult 25-hour flight, the eager travellers were shocked to learn Karito's wheelchair had not made the journey with them.

"When we got here on Boxing Day, his wheelchair wasn't here and it took them two hours to tell us that they didn't know where it was and then another two hours to find out that it was at Dubai Airport," McManus said.

Usually, Karito is wheeled to and from the plane in his own wheelchair when he flies. He was taken to the plane in his wheelchair on the Dubai stopover but the chair wasn't waiting for him at the other end.

He was given a replacement wheelchair at Auckland International Airport but he says it wasn't suitable for his condition - so he has been stuck in his central Auckland hotel room since arriving.

Emirates has been approached for comment but a spokesman said he couldn't comment until he spoke to Dubai International Airport.

Karito and his friends have already had to cancel transport and accommodation while they wait. They had been due to go to Kohukohu in Northland tomorrow.

They had incurred extra costs of about $1000 and say they had not had offers from the airline to help.

Karito was paralysed from the chest down after a work accident just over 30 years ago.

The group told the Herald they had received very little explanation from the airline and were yet to be told when the wheelchair might arrive in New Zealand.

"It has been a nightmare," Karito said.

Silice Karito with friends, from left; Fiona McManus, Ellie McManus and Charlotte McManus.

Silice Karito travelled to Auckland from London and has been stuck in a hotel room since after his custom wheelchair was left in Dubai by Emirates airline. His friends, from left; Fiona McManus, Ellie McManus and Charlotte McManus.(Photo \ NZ Herald)

"I have gone from a chair that I use every day and I am able to be an independent person that lives on my own and drives and everything else, to basically being stuck in this room for the past two days."

Karito's wheelchair, which cost around NZ$5000, is specially made for his needs, is lightweight and collapsible so he can easily get around independently.

The one he was provided with is so heavy he needs other people to push him around, and it can't be broken down to fit into a vehicle.

"It isn't the case that they have given me something that is equal to what I had, they have given me something I can't get about on," he said.

"Unfortunately it seems like they treat a wheelchair like a bit of lost luggage, when if you lose your luggage you can make do for a few days, but I can't walk. It is my mobility."

Karito said he feels as though he has been "fobbed off with a load of excuses" and made to feel like he isn't a priority because of the poor response from Emirates and Menzies Aviation, which provides airport services.

"They seem very dismissive about my situation and not particularly interested in resolving it.

"You'd expect such a prestige airline like Emirates to be a lot better. Obviously stuff goes wrong but you should pull out all the stops to at least mitigate the problem."

He said he was "gutted" by the situation and "very disappointed" with the airline.

"The trip was everything to me. It was a trip of a lifetime.

"I was really looking forward to it. I used up quite a lot of my savings and I am not a rich person," he said.

"I thought very hard about coming here because obviously I knew I would be in the same position for at least 30 hours because I can't get up and stretch out like everyone else.

"It is not a light decision to jump on a plane and take off to New Zealand, so when I eventually get here and I am stuck in this room for the past two days, I am a bit gutted."

McManus said they had tried to contact disability groups in New Zealand for advice, but were lost for what to do next.

"We just want his wheelchair and to get on with our journey. It is just ridiculous. What can we do? We have tried everything and don't know what else to do."

The group planned to be in New Zealand until January 10.

ON AIR: Marcus Lush Nights

8p.m. - 11:59p.m.