(WSVN) - A South Florida teen’s summer vacation took a troubling turn when her wheelchair went missing during an international trip. Now she hopes her efforts to push for change in the airline industry will take off. Karen Hensel has today’s 7Spotlight.
Bella Duarte-Crespo was born with spina bifida. Over the years, the 16-year-old has had four surgeries.
Bella Duarte-Crespo, lost wheelchair on international trip: “My left leg is a little more smaller and a little weaker than my right side, because I’ve had to overcompensate my whole life when it comes to walking, or even just standing for long periods of time, I have pain.”
It’s why Bella needs this wheelchair, which also turns into a walker. But what happened in June, left her without a crucial piece of her life.
Bella Duarte-Crespo: “I’m low-key freaking out a little bit.”
Bella and her family left from Miami on an American Airlines flight to London to catch a connecting British Airways flight to Rome.
Bella Duarte-Crespo: “We’re like, ‘OK, my luggage goes straight to Rome, my wheelchair, we also want to go straight to Rome.'”
But Bella’s wheelchair didn’t make it to Rome.
Bella Duarte-Crespo: “We had to wait in line to file a claim. It was a whole fiasco.”
An Apple AirTag showed her wheelchair was still at London’s Heathrow Airport. They called the airport and both airlines.
Bella Duarte-Crespo: “The more we called and called and called, we kept being reassured that, OK, it would be on the next flight over, or the next flight over or, ‘Sorry about that. It’ll be on the next flight over.'”
It wasn’t, and frustration grew.
Bella Duarte-Crespo: “They’re like, ‘At this point, you should just buy a new one,’ and I was like, ‘You’re kidding, right? Buy a new wheelchair, when I’m in a foreign country?'”
The family was able to secure a rental wheelchair for Bella just in time for their cruise.
Bella Duarte-Crespo: “Without that safety net, I definitely would have been hindered and limited. Overall, I was still able to do a good chunk of the things, which I’m really glad for.”
It took 15 days, but…
Bella Duarte-Crespo: “Finally it arrived. Ironically enough, it arrived the day before we were coming back to Miami.”
Bella has long advocated for those with disabilities, and this time is no exception. But she didn’t want to make this just about airing her complaints to the airlines.”
Bella Duarte-Crespo: “It’s more about what can we do to improve rather than pointing fingers at people.”
In 2022, major U.S airlines mishandled more than 11,000 wheelchairs and scooters.
Bella Duarte-Crespo: “I am willing to be the voice for disabled travelers.”
Bella wrote an open letter to the CEOs of British Airways and American Airlines.
She proposed ideas, including an “innovative tagging system” and “dedicated case managers” to handle lost or damaged mobility aids.
Bella Duarte-Crespo: “I’m here to provide a solution, to collaborate and kind of make whatever airline decides to reach out, [make them] the pioneers for accessibility in air transportation, because this can be a huge movement.”
In a statement to 7News, British Airways said: “We’re investigating the matter and are in direct contact with our customer to apologize and address their complaint.”
American Airlines told us: “A member of our team has been in touch to apologize for her experience and thank Bella for her efforts to improve air travel for those with disabilities.”
Teresa Crespo, Bella’s mom: “Coming from a 16-year-old, that perspective, and the fact that she’s open to listen and include any other people with disability, that’s definitely a no-brainer in my eyes, of course. Then again, I’m the mother.”
A mother, proud of her teenager’s tenacity and passion to help drive change in the skies.
Karen Hensel, 7News.
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