Passengers with disabilities or reduced mobility are legally entitled to special assistance when traveling by air, with airports and airlines required to provide free help and assistance.
Recent experiences of passengers with disabilities, however, suggest that this support is not always available and cannot be relied upon.
“Traumatized and humiliated”
Suzanne Croft, a wheelchair user with muscular dystrophy, said she was ‘traumatized and humiliated’ after special assistance was slow or non-existent at two separate UK airports.
Croft was flying from Newcastle Airport to London Heathrow in June when, she said, it took so long for airport support staff to help her onto the plane that the flight took was delayed 90 minutes.
When she landed at Heathrow, Croft said, she again waited to get off the plane. “The crew and captain of the next flight boarded and both captains were radioing for special assistance, but neither was available.”
In the end, her 66-year-old husband had to lift Croft from his seat. “It’s not the expectation – I’m used to it,” she said. “It’s indignity and humiliation.”
“I tried to call 58 times”
Diane Bland, 66, who has trapped nerves in her back and cannot walk properly, waited two hours at Birmingham Airport recently only to be told her £1,300 scooter was missing.
“How can they lose a bright red mobility scooter?” said Bland, a former nurse. Airport staff told him the scooter had disappeared after landing at 2:40 a.m. on a Sunday morning. “I had to go home without it. Without this scooter, I am confined to the house.
Since returning home, Bland has called the airport nearly 60 times. “But no one answers the phone; one landline, two mobiles from the airport, and there is no response from Tui,” she said.
“I was ordered to file a complaint, claim my travel insurance, call a helpline, who instruct me to file a complaint, then cut me off. I’ve tried calling 58 times so far and got no response.
“Stuck in an empty plane”
BBC security editor Frank Gardner expressed frustration at being left on a plane ‘again’ when Heathrow Airport failed to deliver his wheelchair.
“It happened again. Stuck on an empty plane at Heathrow Airport long after everyone has left,” Gardner tweeted from a runway at the UK’s biggest airport, arriving from Estonia via Helsinki. “’No staff to get my wheelchair off the plane.’ I’m so disappointed.”
It was, he said, the fourth time this had happened to him in just over four years.
“The captain took a personal interest”
Ben Furner encountered the same problem at another UK airport. He was offered to use an airport wheelchair to retrieve his mobility scooter from baggage claim, but declined, saying a generic wheelchair would not support him safely and comfortably.
It was not until the new crew boarded the plane for the next flight and found Ben still sitting there that the captain intervened and arranged for his scooter to be collected. “I was lucky because the captain took a personal and direct interest,” Furner said. “But that, of course, should not be required.”
“I had to negotiate my own way back”
Bernard Casey, a disabled passenger who has been commuting between London and Frankfurt for more than 20 years, recently traveled from London to Casablanca.
“I was told to be three hours early at Gatwick. Along with another disabled passenger, I was picked up just 20 minutes before the flight departed,” he said. “We boarded, courtesy of the cabin crew, just as the doors were closing. Still, even that was better than the return, where no one seemed to pick me up and I had to negotiate my own way back to the station.