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Security footage shows woman in wheelchair was not abandoned at O’Hare Airport

She used a walker to go outside to smoke and was picked up after less than an hour; American Airlines says son rebooked flight.

Passengers wait on a luggage carousel at American Airlines Terminal 3 at O'Hare International Airport in Chicago after a blizzard canceled hundreds of flights last week. (Kamil Krzaczynski/Reuters)

Information released late Monday by American Airlines contradicts a family’s claims that their 67-year-old mother was left stranded in her wheelchair for hours at O’Hare International Airport after her flight was canceled Friday.

Olimpia Warsaw was scheduled to leave on an American Airlines flight from Chicago to Detroit on Friday after attending her ex-husband’s funeral. Her son Claude Coltea told CBS Chicago that he escorted his mother to her gate and checked to see that the flight was leaving as scheduled before leaving to catch his own flight home.

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Warsaw’s flight was canceled, and she was offered a hotel room for the night for a flight the next morning. A porter was assigned to take care of Warsaw. But Coltea told the television station that the porter told Warsaw he could not take her to the hotel and instead of staying with her, told Warsaw his shift was over and left her. His mother, he said, was unable to communicate clearly and could not find anyone else to help get to the hotel.

The family claimed they did not know their mother has been stranded until she failed to arrive in Detroit as scheduled. It was then that they contacted American Airlines. The family told the station the airline was unable to locate their mother, and she eventually was found by O’Hare security officers several hours later.

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But a timeline released by the airline shows that a representative from the contractor assigned to take care of Warsaw spoke with Coltea at least twice. Airline officials said records show that Coltea rebooked his mother on a flight leaving Saturday afternoon and that he said he would send someone to pick her up at the airport.

“We launched an investigation with our Chicago team and the vendor we utilize that provides wheelchair services at O’Hare,” American said in an emailed statement. The airline said that after a review of closed-circuit television footage it determined that: “Ms. Warsaw was dropped off in the terminal at 12:30 a.m. CT on Dec. 1, and a family member arrived at the airport to pick her up at 1:13 a.m. CT.”

Coltea did not respond to several requests for comment.

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According to the airline’s timeline, Warsaw was escorted to a wheelchair waiting area located on the upper level of the airport. Once there, video footage showed Warsaw twice using a walker to go outside to smoke a cigarette before being met by a woman. The woman pushed Warsaw toward the door but then stopped to take a cellphone picture of Warsaw sitting in the wheelchair. The woman then walked away and returned two minutes later. The video showed she flagged down a police officer, with whom she spoke briefly. The woman then wheeled Warsaw to a waiting SUV, where a man was waiting. The group then left the airport.

Earlier Monday, before the investigation, airline officials had apologized and said they had refunded Warsaw’s ticket.