Between the shrinking seat space, increasing fees, and sometimes rowdy passengers flying to your destination isn’t exactly enjoyable. If you are a disabled traveler, flying presents a new set of challenges as a British woman found out when she was stuck on the plane for over an hour and a half because the contractor assigned to assist her didn’t show up.
According to a story in The Guardian, Victoria Brignell was returning home from a vacation in Malta. She arrived at Gatwick airport and was told that Wilson James, a contractor that is hired by the airport to assist disabled passengers, did not send staff in time to get her off the plane.
In speaking about the incident Brignell said -
“Shortly after landing the BA airline staff came up to me and said they’re sorry but the people who are meant to help get me off the plane would not be there for 50 minutes. Time passed and I was then told it would be another half an hour on top of that. In the end I was waiting an hour and 35 minutes.
“I am paralysed from the neck down so I can’t use my arms or legs. To get off a plane I need two people to lift me from the airplane seat into an aisle chair, which is a specially designed narrow wheelchair to push me along the aisle off the plane, and lift me into my wheelchair waiting outside.
“My wheelchair arrived promptly, but the people who were supposed to help me get off the plane didn’t turn up; they were busy elsewhere.”
British Airways staff eventually stepped in to assist her off the plane, but the whole ordeal that not only made this passenger very uncomfortable but also delayed the aircraft’s subsequent flight could have easily been avoided. Both Gatwick airport and Wilson James have issued a formal apology, though Brignell plans on filing a formal complaint.
“I just feel in 2022 people shouldn’t be stuck on a plane for that long. UK airports need to get their act together and plan their staffing appropriately. I booked the help two months in advance, I didn’t just turn up, and I reminded them two weeks before as well.”
My wife is a wheelchair user and we have traveled to several destinations. For the most part, the airports and airlines both in the US and abroad have been professional and accommodating to her needs as a disabled traveler. Except for that one time when Air Canada broke her wheelchair.
What I found striking about Brignell’s unfortunate incident is that Gatwick airport uses an outside contractor to assist with the boarding and deplaning of disabled passengers. Whenever my wife and I have traveled that process has always been handled by airline staff or a combination of airline and local airport staff.
While, in this case, British Airways staff did help Brignell off the plane it seems it was not in their job description to do so. While I am sure that Wilson James has successfully handled other disabled passengers numerous times without incident, it seems that by having the airport and airline rely on an additional party rather than have their own staff trained accordingly, the risk of similar incidents occurring is increased.