NAC Stories: Travel Traumas

Geraldine FreemanIs the world going backwards in terms of disability equality? Geraldine Freeman shares her experiences

In 2019, the aviation industry launched a consultation on the future of UK aviation including meeting the needs of disabled passengers. Both the NAC and the Trust staff submitted a response on behalf of beneficiaries. Unfortunately, since lockdown, disabled people’s experiences of flying seem to have worsened. Geraldine tells her story….

Poor communication from the airline led to unexpected issues

In July, I was scheduled to fly to Tenerife with Jet2 from Bristol airport. Several weeks earlier, I tried to book my assistance. Unable to get through on the phone and 5 emails later, I finally got a response which said someone would contact me in due course. 2 days before I was travelling, I received a call from “Heather” from Jet2, who asked a few questions about my electric wheelchair and ability to walk to the aircraft. I have no legs.

Arriving at the airport in plenty of time, we booked in our luggage and were taken to the assistance desk. I was told my wheelchair couldn’t go on the aircraft, as at 91cm, it was too high to get into the hold. I had received no indication until then this would be a problem. With the help of “Andrew” on the help desk, an airport engineer came to dismantle my chair - something I’ve never had to do before with any other airline.

Lack of consideration for disabled passengers made the journeys very stressful

It was so stressful! I was eventually helped onto the aircraft which had already been loaded with passengers. This is very difficult for any disabled traveller and being watched whilst transferring and manoeuvring into such a small space is embarrassing, humiliating and very uncomfortable.

My stress levels (which were already through the roof) were made even worse when my wheelchair was left sitting on the tarmac waiting to be lifted into the hold. The pilot, furthermore, announced (3 times!) that an electric wheelchair waiting to be put into the hold was causing further delays. I felt so humiliated.

Then an air hostess approached me to say, “In the event of an emergency to let you know we won’t be able to come back and help you…” At this point I couldn’t even look at her…

My return trip was the same - my wheelchair was dismantled, I was, yet again, helped on the aircraft with passengers already boarded. I found this simply unacceptable and back at Bristol, those who needed assistance had to wait a further 45 minutes to disembark. My wheelchair had to be relocated as it had not been prioritised. Obviously, whoever made this decision didn’t think the person needed it that badly!

Geraldine is collating experiences from others for future campaigning

Why in the 21st century are airlines not improving things for disabled travellers? I know I’m not the only disabled person to be suffering such sub-standard treatment, there are high profile disabled people who are receiving the same poor treatment.

Please share your stories of travel experience, good or bad by contacting feedback@ttnac.org. The NAC will forward your experiences to me as I am collating them for future campaigning.

You can also listen to my BBC radio interview about my appalling treatment.

Read more from the NAC in the full Autumn 2022 Newsletter (PDF)