Horrendous BMI Baby treatment

15 Jul

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.


Dear Sir/Madam,


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. 


Yours sincerely


David Chipp


This situation needs to change.  Please help spread the word of what is going on and only then will change happen.



9 Responses to “Horrendous BMI Baby treatment”

  1. Diane Sharp July 15, 2012 at 1:47 pm #

    I can’t believe what I have just read. I found it quite disgusting that a disabled person should suffer such pain and humiliation in this day and age! THe airlines really need to bring themselves up to date. I myself am not disabled, but feel very strongly about disabled issues.

    • Linda Kaye July 16, 2012 at 9:25 am #

      I was saddened to learn of the treatment given to David by BMI Baby, but I feel compelled to write about my fantastic experience I had by Monarch Airlines when I traveled from Gibralter to Luton and back. I also need the assistance of the “Men and women” of the special assistance dept, and as this was my first time flying after being confined to a wheelchair and unable to do very much for myself, I was naturally very apprehensive. But I need not have worried, I was treated with the utmost dignity and gentleness throughout, yes I was surprised to be put in row 6, but when they are the ones pushing you what is one row difference!!!
      I had to be manhandled into a seat but it is little price to pay to be able to travel abroad, and in my case join my family for a wedding, which I never thought I would be able to do. I made sure I had appropriate
      clothing on, a track suit. it is just a case of common sense. I made sure
      when I made the booking. I told them all about my disability and needs, so they were fully aware of my situation.

  2. Bruce July 15, 2012 at 4:38 pm #

    I am saddened to read of your dreadful experience. I used to fly for Baby who used to have a very good reputation for accomodating disabled passengers. BMI has the only approved harness for fully paralysed or quadruple amputees. OCS are provided by the airport rather being contracted by the airline. They are trained, but unskilled (and low paid) although in my experience very well meaning staff, and it would seem they were the root of the problem. I have no advice, and I doubt there is much I can offer in consolation other than I hope you get the attention you deserve of this terrible episode. Perhaps you could highlight your case to The Guild of Air Pilots and Air Navigators, The Royal Aeronautical Society, and other bodies that represent the airline industry who I hope will be rightly embarrassed but can influence change. BMI Baby will cease operations in September so you may not get much response from them unfortunately.

  3. louhicky July 15, 2012 at 7:19 pm #

    I’m very sorry to say, I’m not surprise to read this, also ashamed to admitted that I have never made an official complaint, apart from seeking for compensation when an airline has damaged my chair. I’ve been in very similar situation to yourself, after reading this, I will make a commitment to file complaint in the future. Otherwise, nothing will change and the airline industry will remain in the 1960s.

  4. Colin Billett July 15, 2012 at 10:29 pm #

    A terrible tale David, that need not and should not have been the case. You have bravely shared your distress and humiliation. I hope it helps in the fight against such continuing discrimination.

  5. Bernie July 17, 2012 at 11:15 am #

    David that is just dreadful, how in this day and age can they treat people like this, it is so humiliating, why on earth do they impose these various rules about window seats etc and in particular why did they not have a proper lift up to the plane. I know there are supposed to be anti discrimination laws regarding air travel but they must be either useless or plainly ignored. I wonder if there is any monitoring to ensure that staff and/or airlines are adhering to this.

  6. Mb July 19, 2012 at 8:47 am #

    Your story left me very upset and saddened that you were subjected to such a horrific ordeal. It is beyond belief that this can happen in 2012.

  7. Steve H July 20, 2012 at 7:22 pm #

    I was senior cabin crew member and instructor for many years before ill health caused me to retire from the industry. During this time as operational staff, both I and my crew members carried many disabled passengers on our flights and I can honestly say am I appalled at the treatment this passenger as received. I would have died with embarrasment if I saw somebody being treated in this manner and I would have intervened at a much earlier stage to prevent the man-handling and humiliating manner in which the ground staff were handling this person. Airlines DO welcome disabled passengers – the problem is that aeroplanes ARE NOT designed for disabled people and the aircraft manufacturers do not think about the interior design of the cabin and seating in order to accomodate such passengers, especially those who are totally immobile and who are uable to move themselves around physically. In situations like this the airport fire service are very well trained in carrying passengers who require a full lift (those passengers who are unable to walk) into the aircaft cabin and helping them with complete respect and dignity at all times inmto their seat. Some airports have a specially adapted vehicle which carrys the passengers in their wheelchairs to the aircraft door and then they are only transferred into a chair which fits down the aisle of the aircraft (some aircraft have them onboard as part of their equipment – essential when inflight for helping immobile passenges to the washrooms) for the short distance to their seat before being transfered comfortably to thier seat. So there are options for helping wheelchair bound pasengers to reach their seats with the respect they deserve – believe me, it is very hard to work in a confined area with only a narrow aisle for all concerned and some slight discomfort may be felt for a short spell but it should not spoil the journey or upset the passenger as in this case. The ground staff are responsible for the handling of passengers including disabled passengers but they are all trained for this and this sort of situation should never arise. The airline pays a hefty sum of money for this service to the handling agents who are fully responsible for the expeience this passenger has unfortunately endured. The airline are responsible once the disabled passenger is seated to then ensure the comfort and safety of the passenger throughout the flight. Once again the ground handling staff will become responsible once the destinatin is reached and passengers disembark. The cabin crew are however correct in requiring an immobile passenger to be seated in the window seat. This is a legal requirement under the strict aviation rules that have to be followed in regard to passenger safety and it is the aviation authorities who demand this, not the airline. I cannot understand why the senior cabin crew member did not intervene in the treatment of this passenger earlier as I amsure they must have seen what was happening. However it is not the airline at fault in this matter – it is the ground handling agents and any complaints should be directed at them as well as raising the matter with the airline. My health has deteriorated and I am now disabled, having reduced mobility, but I have flown many times without incident and always been treated with respect and compassion, but I find it difficult enough to get into my seat on an aeroplane, I can only imagine what it is like for totally immobile passengers who rely on this sort of help and assistance – I have the uptmost respect and admiration for them. One again I am so disgusted and upset with the way this passenger has been treated and for the information of other disabled passengers travelling by air – please don’t forget to inform your airline that you have a disability as soon as you book your ticket and telephone the airlines customer services to fully explain your requirements for boarding and seating onboard the aircraft. Hopefully this should ensure a smooth and comfortable flight for you and I hope nobody ever gets treated in the manner that this person has suffered and had to endure. I do hope that Mr Chipp has now recovered from his ordeal and may I wish him all the very best and hope that he never ever experiences anything like this when travelling by air in the future.


  1. London Olympics accessible travel – what is the reality behind disabled wheelchais access to travel at nogobritain.com - July 15, 2012

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