Yesterday at Birmingham Airport I was subjected to one of the most embarressing and humiliating experiences of my life. Airlines are not required to provide disabled facilities to its passengers and as you can see from the letter written below, the provisions they do grudingly provide are barbaricly degrading.
I am writing to you regarding an incident that occurred yesterday at Birmingham Airport. Disabled facilities are an everyday concession to people such as me who have mobility difficulties. Dignified and functional disabled facilities are provided on the railways, buses, taxis and coaches. They may not be perfect but they are present. Not on airlines. Air travel is still one of the most difficult modes of transport a disabled person can ever endure. Seats are not accessible, toilets are not accessible and the attitude of staff and airlines is one of grudging tolerance. The airline industry is still in the 1960s.
Below is a full account of what occurred:
My troubles started in the departure gate lounge where I was told that I was required to transfer from my Electric Wheelchair to a manual wheelchair. This is not standard practice and was a surprise to the special assistance staff. This transfer was conducted in front of the passengers for all to see. Bodily lifting someone of my stature into another wheelchair is a very difficult exercise and the special assistance staff found it very difficult. I was placed in a second chair that was far too large for me leaving me slumped to one side. By this point I was very agitated as was my mother and the assistance staff.
I was wheeled down to the boarding jet way still slumped in the chair where I was then transferred to a 2nd narrower transfer chair. By the time I was being transferred, once again bodily lifted, the BMI baby staff had sent the passengers down to board the plane. This extremely undignified transfer was carried out in front of the passengers. By this time my clothes were dishevelled and my trousers were falling down. I felt humiliated.
I was then taken into the plane, this was not an easy operation because I was not sat upright on the transfer chair and once again was slumped to one side twisted on the chair. The stewardess then directed my mother to our seats which were on row 3 seats E and F. According to the stewardess it was BMI baby policy that disabled passengers sat in window seats. This was apparently to ensure if there was an incident, passengers would not be impeded. This is probably the most belittling statements I have ever had the unfortunate privilege to hear.
From my experiences so far I knew lifting me into these seats was going to be an impossible task. Manoeuvring me through the aisle was extremely difficult due to my clothes getting stuck on the arm rests causing a further lowering of my trousers. I was also being pulled off the transfer chair by these recurring clothing snags leaving me teetering on the edge of the transfer chair. Coincidentally, quite a crowd was now forming around me including both Pilots, two stewardesses, my mother and the two OCS special assistance staff.
In order to transfer me from my now very precarious position on the transfer chair I would need the arm rest of the aisle seat raised. The OCS staff and the stewardess then tried to raise the arm rest on seat 3D but the arm rest was broken and would not raise. The Stewardess decided she would allow us to move to the opposite side of the aisle into seats 3A and B.
The arm rest on seat 3C was successfully raised and an attempt was then made to move me into seat 3C. This did not go well because they could not get a good grip on me because of my very reclined position and the proximity of the seats. They then attempted to lift me again by standing on the seats. This once again failed. The two assistance staff were by this time sweating profusely and very apologetic. They both insisted they would keep trying to get me onto the seat, it wasn’t a problem. By this time my arms were very sore from the amount of lifting that had been attempted. I said we would try one more time to get me onto the seat and if this failed we would be taken off the plane.
Backup was called and a third OCS special assistance man arrived. With the assistance of this third person I was lifted onto seat 3C but slumped onto seat 3B and my knees wedged against seat 2C. My trousers had been pulled completely down over my bottom exposing my underwear. They tried to sit me up more but due to the overhead storage above seat 3A and B. This was impossible. I was now sat on the seat belts and hurting all over. I then decided enough was enough and I was to be taken off the plane. I could not stand this circus 3 further times over my holiday.
My wheelchair then had to be found in the hold meaning I was left wedged on my seat for some 10 minutes before I was then lifted back onto the transfer chair by the 3 special assistance staff. More people having arrived, watching, unable/unwilling to assist. I was then taken back down the aisle towards the plane exit, once again snagging clothes, scrapping my shoulders and elbows along the seats and arm rests.
I then had to be once again bodily lifted into my wheelchair on the Jet way. The entire plane load of passengers were waiting on the Jet Way waiting to enter the plane. Remember I have had my clothes pulled off, sweated on and am now very distressed. I was then bodily lifted into my electric wheelchair by the 3 OCS assistance staff in front of the whole plane load of passengers. The 3 assistance staff then tried to pull up my trousers unsuccessfully once again in full view of all passengers. By this time I had exceeded my capacity to be embarrassed. In order to exit the jet way I had to drive myself past the full load of passengers still with my trousers pulled down with the passengers clearly very irritated WITH ME for being held on the Jet Way. Our baggage was collected and we were then taken to the BMI baby desk in the departures check-in hall.
We were then told by the duty BMI Baby representative on the desk that the instructions of her manager were we could be transferred free of charge to another flight on Saturday morning. In the discussion her manager had told her this was not the first time this incident had happened. Additionally we would have to buy an additional return seat so I could then sit in the middle seat and not obstruct anyone. This would cost us an additional £230. But they might have to use the seat if the plane had been overbooked leaving me in the same position, but having paid my additional £230. We asked to speak to the BMI Baby manager but we were told these were his instructions. The BMI baby representative would not ask her manager to come down to speak to us. They would not give me any written confirmation of their requests other than adding a note on the BMI Baby representatives computer.
We declined the offer of purchasing an additional seat and left the terminal.
We are in 2012. The Paralympic Games starts in 1 month and 15 days. How is it that the airline industry has been allowed to harbour these archaic methods and practices? The OCS special assistance staff did their very best to get me on the plane but due to the policies of BMI Baby I was subjected to this ordeal. No specialist equipment was available for assistance staff to use. Hoists were made compulsory for health care workers to avoid these problems as well as the personal injury of staff members.
I hope that you would consider taking on this discrimination as it is an important issue in today’s world that global travel is not accessible to all. It is high time the airline industry was made to do something to ensure disabled people are not denied to the ability to fly in dignity.
This situation needs to change. Please help spread the word of what is going on and only then will change happen.