‘It’s not the waiting, it’s the humiliation’: disabled passengers on their travel torments | Traveling with disabilities

Passengers with a disability or reduced mobility are legally entitled to special assistance when traveling by air, with airports and airlines required to provide help and assistance free of charge.

Recent experiences of disabled passengers, however, suggests this support is not always available and cannot be relied on.

‘Traumatised and humiliated’

Suzanne Croft, a wheelchair user with muscular dystrophy, has said she was left “traumatised and humiliated” after special assistance was slow or nonexistent 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 assistance staff to assist her on to the plane that the flight was delayed for 90 minutes.

When she landed at Heathrow, Croft said she was left waiting again to get off the plane. “The crew and captain of the next flight boarded and both captains were radioing for special assistance, but none was available.”

In the end, her 66-year-old husband had to lift Croft out of her seat. “It’s not the waiting, I’m used to that,” she said. “It’s the indignity and humiliation.”

‘I’ve tried calling 58 times’

Diane Bland, 66, who has trapped nerves in her back and cannot walk properly, waited for two hours at Birmingham airport recently only to be eventually told that her £1,300 scooter had gone missing.

“How can they lose a bright red mobility scooter?” said Bland, a former nurse. She was told by airport staff that the scooter had gone missing after she landed at 2.40am on a Sunday morning. “I had to go home without it and without that scooter I’m housebound.”

Since returning home, Bland has called the airport nearly 60 times. “But no one is answering the telephones; one landline, two mobiles from the airport and there’s no answer from Tui,” she said.

“I’ve been directed to file a complaint, directed to claim on my travel insurance, ring an assistance department which directs me to file a complaint and then cuts me off. I’ve tried calling 58 times so far and got no response at all.”

‘Stuck on an empty plane’

The BBC’s security editor, Frank Gardner, expressed his frustration at being left on a plane “again” when Heathrow airport failed to deliver his wheelchair.

“It’s happened again. Stuck on an empty plane at Heathrow airport long after everyone else is off,” Gardner tweeted from a runway at the UK’s largest airport, having arrived from Estonia via Helsinki. “’No staff to get my wheelchair off the plane’. I am 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 experienced the same issue at a different British airport. He was offered the use of an airport wheelchair to collect his mobility scooter from the baggage reclaim area but refused, saying a generic wheelchair wouldn’t support him in a safe and comfortable way.

It wasn’t 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 retrieved. “I was lucky because the captain took a personal and direct interest,” said Furner. “But that, of course, shouldn’t be required.”

‘I had to negotiate my own way back’

Bernard Casey, a disabled passenger who has commuted between London and Frankfurt for more than 20 years, traveled from London to Casablanca recently.

“I was told to be three hours early at Gatwick. Together with one other disabled passenger, I was picked up a mere 20 minutes before the flight was due to depart,” he said. “We boarded, thanks to the aircrew, just as the gates were shutting down. Yet even that was better than the return, where no one appeared to pick me up and I had to negotiate my own way back to the train station.”

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