I fly fairly often – a couple of times a year – and so am pretty familiar with what to expect when it comes to being helped on and off an aeroplane. The general feeling from my own and others’ experiences is that it leaves a lot to be desired. However, my recent trip to Amsterdam left me very impressed with the service that can be provided, if the staff are willing.
Luton isn’t a massive airport, and it’s not one I’ve flown from before. This goes part of the way to explaining why we massively under-budgeted for time in terms of actually getting to the airport, arriving horrendously late (about 25 minutes before the flight was due to leave, and 5 minutes after the gate had closed!) I’ve seen enough airport-based reality TV shows to know that once the gate is closed, you’re scuppered. Still, we decided to try our luck with the assistance desk. After being initially chastised for our utter lack of planning, the man behind the desk radioed a colleague to come and help us out. Apparently there was a whole lot else going on at the other end of the radio because it turned out they’d actually convinced the airline to hold the plane for us – yes, actually stop it from taking off – until we arrived. We were rushed through security, with the assistance guy helping us load and unload our bags onto the conveyor belt more quickly, and even giving me a hand with my shoes. By the time we got to the gate the ambilift was there waiting for us to load me straight onto the plane. The whole attitude was massively “can-do” and really made the anxiety of almost missing our flight a lot easier to deal with.
Both on embarking at the beginning of my holiday and disembarking at the end (back in Luton again), I found the staff to be very attentive and courteous, asking if I had any pain or balance issues, and checking what the best way to lift me was. They arrived at the plane promptly on my return despite it landing 20 minutes early, so I didn’t have to spend ages sat in the cabin by myself. They were very careful and treated me with respect and compassion, rather than as a piece of luggage to be hauled around. I have to say that it was a bit of a revelation in terms of the experience you could potentially have when using an aeroplane. Furthermore, it was leagues ahead of the service I received at Schiphol in Amsterdam, where they carried me down the stairs in full view of a large waiting room full of people, and would not allow my partner to travel in the minibus from the gate to the plane with me for “health and safety reasons.”
Obviously there is still much that can be improved with regard to wheelchair users and aeroplanes. I do think, though, that the team who helped me on and off the plane at Luton Airport managed exceptionally well within the constraints they had upon them. Even though it’s a 3 hour drive (which I can now say with some certainty) from where I live, I will definitely be looking at Luton again if the service is always this good.