Alice – Fostering Blog.
I was sad to read in the news this morning that Frank Gardner a BBC News correspondent was left stranded on an airplane at Heathrow airport when his wheelchair could not be located.
When his plane landed from Ethiopia the ground staff at the airport said his wheelchair could not be found. It took 100 minutes before Gardner was finally able to leave the plane. He said “That is your legs gone. It is a basic human right.” He had earlier tweeted “I am so utterly sick of @HeathrowAirport ground staff ‘losing’ my wheelchair. Over 70 mins after landing back from Ethiopia I’m still stuck on an empty plane while they try to find it Just when is UK’s premier airport going to stop treating disabled passengers this way?” He accused the airport of having a “casual disregard” for disabled passengers and said it was “a disgrace to British airports”.
Sadly this is commonplace for disabled passengers. I remember reading in Tani Grey Thompson’s autobiography “Seize the Day”, about the experience she and other athletes had at airports when travelling to the Paralympic Games. We too have seen how disabled passengers are treated when we have travelled with our foster daughter Alice. No matter how far in advance you book your flight and let the airport know that you need assistance, there seems to be always something that goes wrong. The Civil Aviation Authority states that if you’re a passenger with a disability or reduced mobility you are legally entitled to support, commonly known as ‘Special Assistance’, when travelling by air.
The last flight that we took from Bristol Airport to Malaga in Spain started off really well. We checked in early and ensured the staff knew that our foster daughter was in a wheelchair and we would need special assistance. We boarded the plane using a special lift into the back of the plane. We then had to carry Alice to her seat and her wheelchair was taken away. We made it clear that she would need her wheelchair to disembark. On arrival in Spain we were told that her wheelchair had been put in the hold and we could collect it at Baggage Reclaim.
It shocked us that staff had allowed her wheelchair to go to Baggage Reclaim – her wheelchair is not baggage – it is her legs – it is how she gets around. She cannot crawl the length of the airport to collect it. We were in a very difficult position and in the end staff brought an airport wheelchair so that we could transport her to her own wheelchair. It is so unfortunate that this experience happens far too often. If we are ever in this position again, I will stand our ground like Frank Gardner and wait on the plane until they bring her wheelchair back. Maybe by delaying the plane, it will send a signal to staff that this is not okay and that disabled passengers have rights to a fair access to air travel and that further improvements need to be made in the consistency of the service available to all disabled passenger.
A Less Ordinary Fostering Family Blog.