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Woman, 67, left alone in wheelchair at O’Hare overnight: ‘I was scared to death’

Olimpia Warsaw

Olimpia Warsaw, 67, sat at O'Hare Airport for five hours after her flight was canceled. | Photo taken by Pusha Colteau

A 67-year-old woman in a wheelchair was “scared to death” when she was left at O’Hare Airport overnight after her flight was canceled.

Olimpia Warsaw was heading home to Detroit on Friday after attending her ex-husband’s funeral in Chicago. Because of Parkinson’s and diabetes, Warsaw has trouble walking and communicating.

Warsaw’s son, Claude Colteau, made accommodations for his mother’s flight, getting her a wheelchair and a porter. He was boarding a flight to Connecticut at the same time, but walked with Warsaw and the porter to her gate before going to his.

“Last I saw, the plane was on time. Everything was good,” Colteau said.

But the flight she was set to board got canceled, and when she was returned to the front of the airport, she was not able to communicate with agents. Eventually, her porter’s shift ended, and he left her. And that’s where she sat — for five hours.

“I was scared to death … there was nobody,” Olimpia Warsaw said Monday when reached at home in Michigan.

Warsaw’s family was worried when she didn’t arrive as planned, and started calling American Airlines. Colteau said his mother was found in an empty hallway near a restroom, where another passenger had taken her upon request.

“She was there by herself for a long time,” her husband, Ronald Warsaw, said Monday. Besides Parkinson’s and diabetes, she also suffers from anxiety, he said.

“She figured if she stays in one place there’s more likelihood that someone would help her,” Colteau said.

Warsaw’s relatives in Illinois brought her back to their home to rest before getting on another flight Saturday afternoon.

American Airlines said it apologized to the family and is investigating the incident so that it does not happen again.

“The American Airlines team is deeply concerned about what occurred Friday evening at Chicago O’Hare. This is not the level of service we aspire to provide to our customers, and we apologize to Ms. Warsaw and her family for letting them down,” American Airlines spokeswoman LaKesha Brown said.

Brown said American Airlines refunded the ticket after meeting with the family Saturday in Chicago and Detroit.

“All I want is … American to immediately reassess its processes for working with disabled people that have special needs. I doubt that someone would leave a 12-year-old child like that, but the truth is, an elderly person that has a disability has the same kind of needs,” said Colteau.

“It was not fair for them just to leave her without any assistance because she needs help just moving around, going to the bathroom,” Ronald Warsaw said.

Olimpia Warsaw said she just wants to make sure this doesn’t happen to anyone else.

“This can happen to anybody, anybody’s mom, anybody’s sister. It’s frightening,” she said. “People should be more caring about each other, more compassionate.”

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Contributing: Luke Wilusz