CHICAGO (WGN) — After a family vacation, Shannon O’Brien’s flight arrived at O’Hare International Airport, but her customized wheelchair was not on board, and for days, she was unable to drive her vehicle, go to work or leave her bed.
After multiple delays, O’Brien finally got her customized wheelchair back Monday around 9 p.m., and to her relief, the wheelchair is still fully functional and suffered minimal damage on its long and winding journey.
O’Brien is completely dependent on the wheelchair due to a genetic disease called spinal muscular atrophy, which causes O’Brien to have minimal movement in her arms and legs.
The wheelchair allows her to be independent, its level of customization being so in-depth that it fits her vehicle, allowing her to drive to work.
But without the wheelchair, O’Brien was bedridden, needing help for even the simplest of tasks.
“I’m in bed, can’t go or do anything without it,” O’Brien said before her wheelchair was returned. “Anytime I need to leave my bed, someone has to carry me somewhere, which is really hard and uncomfortable for me.”
The debacle started last week when O’Brien joined her family on a trip to Punta Cana in the Dominican Republic. She said the vacation was great until they started traveling back to Chicago.
“We were flying home Saturday on Frontier Airlines, and unfortunately on takeoff, the plane’s hydraulics went out, which was pretty scary,” O’Brien said. “[We] had to make an emergency landing in Orlando.”
O’Brien and 182 other passengers were stuck at Orlando International Airport overnight, and, she said, “The chair never came over those 12 hours.”
The next day, a Frontier Airlines gate agent told O’Brien her wheelchair would be on the flight back to O’Hare, but when they landed, she was informed it was still in Orlando. She was then promised it would be delivered on a separate flight to Midway International Airport, but it never arrived.
In a statement, a Frontier Airlines spokesperson apologized for what happened to O’Brien and said the wheelchair would be delivered Monday around 7 p.m.
At that point, O’Brien’s primary concern wasn’t whether she’d get her wheelchair back, but rather in what condition it would be when it arrived. She said her wheelchair is worth $50,000.
“On and off planes, moving around, pulling on parts. It could potentially not even work if I get it back,” O’Brien said at the time.
O’Brien said she knows others with disabilities refuse to travel because of issues like hers, highlighting how difficult it can be for people like her to fly.
“It’s not fair to people with disabilities that don’t get to travel for the fear of it,” O’Brien said. “Then those of us that do … end up stuck in bed for 48 hours and counting.”
O’Brien said a Frontier Airlines worker assured her that if she notices any problems with the chair in the coming days, she can call them, and they will pay for repairs.