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Deaf Austin teen stuck 1,800 miles away without luggage, cochlear implant charger after Southwest cancelations

Sanyia was left stranded at the airport without notice that her flight had been canceled and difficulty communicating because her luggage had been sent elsewhere.

AUSTIN, Texas — Lacresha Roberts has spent the last two days at Austin-Bergstrom International Airport hoping to find her daughter's luggage.

Roberts' daughter, 16-year-old Sanyia Roberts, is one of the many who were affected by Southwest Airlines' catastrophe. Sanyia, however, is still stuck 1,800 miles away from home without her luggage, any toiletries or her cochlear implant charger.

On Dec. 20, the deaf teen flew to the Midwest to celebrate her 16th birthday with extended family. It was meant to be a fun and stress-free week.

"She's just a normal teenager," Roberts said. "She wants to do TikTok. She wants to stay on the phone all day with her friends. She loves her siblings.”

When purchasing the flight for Sanyia, Roberts requested assistance for her unaccompanied minor, noting that her daughter is deaf and would need interpreter services.

“I check that box each flight," Roberts said.

Having done this before, Roberts assumed Sanyia was all set for her flights to Chicago, then back to Austin. But on Dec. 27, when Sanyia got to the Chicago airport to fly back to Central Texas, she was never joined by an interpreter or provided assistance.

Sanyia also wasn't notified by text or the Southwest app that her flight had been canceled until hours after the flight had been grounded. 

Roberts said because Sanyia's cochlear implant charger is in her checked-in luggage, the device was dead and Sanyia could not hear any announcements in the airport about her flight. 

And a text received at 1 p.m. showed her flight, scheduled for 7 a.m., would now leave at 9:35 a.m. -- an alert delivered more than five hours late. Later, a final text received at 2:39 p.m. said the flight was officially canceled, although it had been canceled for some time by then.

“She's sitting in a corner crying because she's traumatized because she doesn't know what's going on," Roberts said.

Sanyia said she tried asking people for help, but had difficulty getting anyone to understand what was wrong. She described being scared and feeling helpless. Some people offered to drive Sanyia to the extended family she had come to visit, who live two hours away from the Chicago airport, but she turned it down out of fear.

Roberts said after learning her daughter's flight was canceled, she spoke with Southwest ticket agents over FaceTime. One offered to take Sanyia to baggage claim to get her suitcase, but when they got there, Sanyia was told her belongings were now in St. Louis.

Sanyia's extended family did pick her up from the airport that same day.

The single mother of three said she spent money meant for other bills on a separate Southwest flight to try to get Sanyia home, but that, too, was canceled.

“Even though I'm trying, it makes me feel like a failure because I'm supposed to have, you know, a safety net," Roberts said.

While Roberts is upset her daughter is stuck with nothing 1,800 miles away, she is more upset that Southwest Airlines dropped the ball. At a minimum, Roberts said, she wished her daughter was provided with the assistance she’d requested when booking the flight.

“They completely failed my child in every possible way,” Roberts said. “They completely failed her.”

Roberts is demanding Southwest Airlines do more to better serve its consumers with disabilities, and to be more aware of minors traveling alone needing assistance.

“I don't want just 'Here's your [the refund] back' and ‘I'm sorry,’” Roberts said. “I need some type of action. I need more actions to be implemented so this situation doesn’t happen again.”

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