A couple of days ago, the BBC news correspondent Frank Gardener was left stranded for half an hour on an EasyJet aeroplane because the wheelchair lift at Gatwick airport had not turned up. Quite rightly he was not amused.
I can sympathise as the treatment of disabled passengers in airports around the world is downright shocking !!!!
In 2011 I had my first experience as a wheelchair airline passenger, having had to start using Wizzy in 2009, and it was not good. You can read all about it here and here.
Two Customer from Hell complaint letters were sent to both British Airways and Heathrow special services department. A grovelling apology and a bouquet of flowers from special services and a half-hearted telephone apology from BA.
Since then every flight we took we’ve encounter problems and discrimination. Things came to a head in November when the Customer from Hell had had enough.
We were flying home from Barcelona airport having been on a short cruise around the Mediterranean. At the departure gate an announcement was made for passengers with infants and those who required extra time boarding to make their way to the aircraft. BA’s policy for boarding disabled passengers is to allow them to board first. This is so they can take their time getting on the aircraft safely.
However when we tried to board we were told that because I was in a wheelchair I would have to board last with the rest of the wheelchairs passengers. When I queried this I was told in no uncertain terms that this was a BA policy and I would have to take it up with them.
To make matters worse, even though I was right next to John, he was then asked if “I could walk”. John snapped, “instead of asking me, ask my wife”.
Imagine the outcry if BA told its black passengers that they have to board last, and then ask the white husband of a black passenger ‘can she read or write’. Yet for some reason, BA thought it was perfectly acceptable to discriminate against wheelchair passengers.
Because of segregating the wheelchair passengers and making us board last we delayed the flight by about 10 minutes. Thankfully our seats were in the second row so it wasn’t too much of an obstacle course trying to avoid tripping over passengers feet sticking out. However I still had to put with the stares from other passengers like I was some kind of freak show.
Once we had landed I got chatting to the wife of a fellow wheelchair passenger and she was not happy about how we were boarded. Her husband, who I think had Parkinson’s disease, was extremely upset at passengers gawking at him.
When we arrived at Heathrow’s terminal 3 I was told by the cabin crew that a special service assistance would have to take me to terminal 5, as that was where Wizzy was going to be taken.
As BA’s flight connection policy states that a wheelchair can be delivered to the aircraft door I explained that I would like Wizzy brought to the aircraft. It had, after all, been given an orange ‘return to aircraft’ label.
I was told “this isn’t how things are done in terminal 3”. Having had problems in the past with Wizzy going missing and eventually turning up in several pieces on the baggage reclaim belt, I ask again for it to be brought to the aircraft door.
The cabin crew were not happy. I overheard one saying to another, “you can have a go at talking to her as I’ve tried and she just won’t listen to me”. When this particular cabin crew person walked passed me I said, “I heard that”, to which he replied that I was ‘being unreasonable’.
As I was refusing to move from the aircraft until Wizzy was brought to the door, which, consequently meant that the cabin crew couldn’t leave, it finally arrived.
When you have a complaint to make against BA they ask that you send it to customer relations, or something like that. I sent my letter to their CEO which was ignored… Not a good idea when you’re dealing with the Customer from Hell. I found his email address on google and sent the letter again.
Eventually I got a reply from one of his minions saying he apologised for any distress caused bla, bla, bla. What is really worrying though, is he couldn’t guarantee that this kind of behavior or discrimination wouldn’t happen again. I may as well be talking to a brick wall….
A couple of days later John received an email from BA’s customer service, which went something like this:
‘Dear Mr Harper. We understand that you have contacted BA’s CEO regarding a complaint. Could you please complete this short questionnaire in relation to how we dealt with your complaint’.
What was I saying about a brick wall !!!!!!