It is essential disabled people get the accessibility support they need to live life as fully as possible, and that includes using all forms of transport for both business and pleasure. The shocking commonality of such incidents is causing people to call for change.
Suzanne Croft, 53, who lives with limb girdle muscular dystrophy, contacted the charity after experiencing distressing delays in special assistance at both Newcastle Airport and London Heathrow. She has spoken out saying “prompt action is needed from airports to prevent further tragedies.”
A series of recent repeated failures at airports – including a sad incident in which a man died at Gatwick this week – have left wheelchair-users fearful of travelling at a time of already increasing problems in air travel for the whole population.
Suzanne flew from Newcastle airport to Heathrow on Thursday 9 June after attending an important clinical study into her condition at a hospital in Newcastle.
However, when Suzanne’s BA flight landed at Heathrow, special assistance failed to arrive and so she had to be lifted and helped off the plane by her husband and the crew of the next flight. The passengers of the next flight were already at their gate ready to board.
Suzanne had already experienced a nearly 90-minute delay when boarding the same flight at Newcastle as special assistance was not available with equipment to help her board. Suzanne was highly distressed by the delay that led the flight to depart an hour late.
I felt so embarrassed and it has left me quite traumatised,
said Suzanne. “The rest of the passengers had already been boarded so long they had been given snacks and water -- and didn’t look happy.
“As a wheelchair user, it was so humiliating to be loaded onto the plane and into my seat in front of everyone. I felt so upset and guilty to be the cause of a one-hour delay in departure – as well as the knock-on delays on the following flights.
“When the flight landed at Heathrow, everyone else disembarked, but the special assistance failed to arrive,” Suzanne said “The crew and captain of the next flight boarded and both captains were radioing for special assistance, but none was available.
“In the end my husband, who is 66, had to lift me out of the seat, assisted by the new crew, and they had to place me in a folding aisle chair which had no seat belts. My husband held my legs in while a kind crew member of the next flight pushed me to the arrival lounge.
It’s not the waiting – I’m used to that. It’s the indignity and humiliation. It’s just not good enough.
Suzanne, who is a retired dental practice manager from Surrey, added: “I don’t want to get the cabin crew and the captain into trouble – they were so helpful and kind– the captain even carried our luggage to the taxi. And I know the special assistance people are doing the best job they can. There’s just not enough special assistance staff and equipment – that’s the problem.”
“I was shocked about the recent sad incident at Gatwick in which a man died – and I feel it is my duty to speak out,” she added. “There needs to be prompt immediate action from airports to prevent further tragedies. Apologies aren’t enough."
Suzanne Croft waiting in airport departure lounge
MDUK issued a statement on Friday 17 June reminding the aviation industry that air passengers who live with a disability or reduced mobility are legally entitled to accessibility support when travelling by air.
In interviews with BBC Look North, ITV Tyne Tees and BBC Radio Newcastle Robert Burley, Director of Campaigns, Care and Support, said
disabled people are being left behind in the post-pandemic return to activity.
“We are concerned that as we emerge from the pandemic, disabled people, including those with muscle-wasting conditions, are continuing to experience barriers to resuming everyday life.
“As travel restrictions have begun to ease and the wider general public is resuming their lives, disabled people are still being disproportionately impacted.”
“It is essential disabled people get the accessibility support they need to live life as fully as possible, and that includes using all forms of transport for both business and pleasure.”
Suzanne Croft added, “The way I feel at the moment, I don’t ever want to fly again, but the study I’m taking part in in Newcastle is so important for myself and others with my condition. I feel so sad that something like flying, that should open up so many opportunities and experiences to me, has now been turned into something I will dread”.