In June, this year, my husband and I took our usual flight from Heathrow to Toulouse in France home to our house where we lived for 10 years. Since we returned to the UK three years ago we can only manage to get there for just six weeks a year.
This is because of my disability. Or, actually it’s not! It’s because it is so difficult and stressful to take the flight.
We used to drive down back in the day when we were both fit and healthy, sometimes staying somewhere on the way down. We would stay for six months and then go home for six months.
So, we moved, lock, stock and barrel. I got into the health and social security system, and we got help. At the time I could still walk with a Zimmer frame. As my condition worsened the amount of care I needed increased and it happened!
But now we had to fly home if we wanted to see our family. And so it began. A catalogue of errors and mishaps and downright inefficiency and incompetence. Flying from the UK and back after our visit this summer was the pinnacle of all these things.
When I was no longer able to drive, but was still just about walking, we could fly Ryan Air. Easy peasy! When I could no longer manage the stairs at home and the farce of attempting to get a diagnosis (a story for another day!) we decided to move there permanently. Our house is an old farmhouse with no stairs.
Flying out from Heathrow in June, despite asking the Assistance Team four times not to take the legs off my wheelchair to transfer me to a boarding chair (you can’t take your chair on to the plane), they did it anyway. Somewhat inevitably, they were subsequently lost.
The return journey was even worse. To cut a very long story short; flight cancelled, rebooked for the next day, disability arrangements not carried forward, upshot – no Assistance Team at the airport! Assistance was provided – by four young women in BA staff uniforms. They decided to stand me up on my completely useless legs despite me telling them what would happen. Result; I collapsed painfully, they panicked, threw me back towards my chair which I only just reached and I ended up in an extremely painful and undignified position. They called the Fire Brigade!
The one good thing was we were upgraded to business class! During all this I lost a front tooth. Back in the UK I had to have emergency dental treatment privately ( no NHS dentist could give me an urgent appointment) which cost me £745!
I decided to make a claim for compensation from the airline. After all, they had reimbursed me for the cost of the new wheelchair legs I had to buy.
They disputed the claim denying any liability. Now, strictly speaking, British Airways do not provide the disability assistance themselves. It is provided by another company. However, on this occasion they did, as they were left with little choice. They are refusing to compensate me for my dental treatment, saying that the airport provided assistance (in my view totally inadequate) therefore they cannot be held responsible, notwithstanding the fact that the Senior crew member told me to make a claim.
I need to make something clear. It’s not money that motivates me. It is the sheer inability of companies who advertise a service to understand the need for understanding and empathy when dealing with the diverse needs of people with disabilities. But, more than that, they need to listen. I have made this point over and over again to BA, on forums, anywhere I can. The CEO of Disability Rights UK (www.disabilityrightsuk.org) has written to his BA counterpart suggesting ways in which they can improve their service.
Yet, everyday on Twitter I see complaints about BA, RyanAir, and Easy Jet and their disability assistance.
I don’t know what it will take for them to wake up and smell the coffee, but I know I’m going to keep on trying.