4km ordeal for for wheelchair-bound pair

Last updated 14:18 20/02/2014
ROBERT KITCHIN/FAIRFAX NZ

Thousands of airline passengers around the country have been affected by disruption to services in and out of Wellington caused by fog.

Lorri Mackness, right, and Kaeti Rigarlsford
ROBERT KITCHIN/Fairfax NZ
'IT WAS REALLY SCARY': Disabled women Lorri Mackness, right, and Kaeti Rigarlsford, back at the airport today.

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Wellington's fog may have started the trouble, but for two wheelchair-bound stranded fliers, it was a lack of special taxis that put them on a life-threatening odyssey.

Aucklander Lorri Mackness was forced to travel 4 kilometres by electric wheelchair, occasionally on the 70kmh road itself, to get to the nearest available hotel last night.

She had been attending a conference in Wellington and was at the airport when her flight home was cancelled by the fog.

At about 10.30pm, her group was lucky to secure accommodation at the Brentwood Hotel in Kilbirnie. But with a fused knee, Mackness needed a wheelchair-accessible taxi with a hoist to get her there.

She asked one of the drivers outside the airport to call a special vehicle.

"They said 'Oh no, no, we haven't got any taxi vans on the road' – which is true. It's the same in Auckland," she said.

"I think they think disabled people don't go out at night and are all tucked up in bed."

Mackness pleaded in vain with taxi staff.

"Even when I said I had no choice, I'm going to have to go along the road [in an electric wheelchair] myself, they really just didn't care. They were just happy to leave me."

Mackness was forced to take the risky 4km route to the hotel, with her friend Kaeti Rigarlsford.

Rigarlsford, also in a wheelchair, refused to leave Mackness to make the trip by herself.

They were "nearly hit a couple of times" navigating Stewart Duff Dr, Calabar Rd and Cobham Dr on the late-night trip, which took 30 minutes.

"There's a part where there's just no footpath, so I was on the road and a car was coming along, but it wasn't changing lane . . . it was really scary," she said.

A number of people, concerned for the pair's safety, stopped and helped them cross roads at various intersections.

The group this morning learned about a 24-hour wheelchair-accessible Wellington taxi service, but still believed the taxi staff last night needed to do more to help her.

As of this afternoon, Mackness had been told she may be able to get on a 3pm flight to Auckland. "But you just don't know," she said.

Wellington Airport spokesman Greg Thomas said the airport required taxis to facilitate passengers needs: "[We] work closely with them on this."

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