Why are wheelchair-users left on planes? — Scope | Disability forum
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Why are wheelchair-users left on planes?

Tori_Scope Scope Campaigns Posts: 12,465 Disability Gamechanger
That isn't the start to a bad joke... You may have seen this on the news already, but I wanted to share Frank's story of being left on a plane after the airport failed to deliver his wheelchair to him upon landing. 

Taken from: Frank Gardner: 'It happened again' - Why are wheelchair-users left on planes? (BBC)
If you use Twitter you may have seen Frank Gardner tweet his frustration at being left on a plane at the weekend after Heathrow Airport failed to deliver his wheelchair to him when he landed. It's a problem lots of wheelchair-users have faced - but what causes it?

"It's happened again. Stuck on an empty plane at Heathrow airport long after everyone else is off," Frank angrily typed on Sunday night from a runway at the UK's largest airport having arrived from Estonia via Helsinki. "'No staff to get my wheelchair off the plane'. I am SO disappointed."
While many wheelchair-users told the BBC's Access All podcast they had often experienced similar incidents, Heathrow Airport cited Covid-19 as the problem.

Ben Furner experienced the same thing just weeks earlier at a different British airport. He was left on a plane while someone went in search of his mobility scooter.

"It had been agreed that the mobility scooter would be made available to me at the entrance of the plane, but there was nobody to fetch it up, so I was left."

He was offered the use of an airport wheelchair and told he could go to baggage reclaim to collect his scooter.

But Ben explains this is unacceptable. Wheelchairs are often customised and built to personal specifications and a generic, ill-fitting, wheelchair won't necessarily support someone in a safe and comfortable way.

In the end, when the new crew boarded the plane to prepare for the next flight and found Ben still sitting there, the captain intervened and arranged for his scooter to be retrieved.
According to the Civil Aviation Authority, the UK's regulator, the responsibility lies with the airport to provide assistance to passengers when they are on the ground. That includes retrieving wheelchairs from the hold and returning them to passengers who have landed.

When the system doesn't work, or the communication breaks down, it's frustrating and it's not always a one-off.

"This is now the fourth time that this has happened to me in just over four years," Frank sighs.

Heathrow Airport says it wants all passengers to have a "seamless journey" and it was "disappointed" for Frank. "We apologise for this," it said, citing Covid-19 and the subsequent impact as the reason.

"As the airport rebuilds post-pandemic, all organisations across the airport are scaling-up resources so that we can get back to operating at a more normal level as quickly as possible. Unfortunately, the delay Mr Gardner experienced was a result of the airline's ground handling agents struggling with a colleague shortfall."

For Frank, while his tweets might seem a harmless way to express frustration, they have been effective at making change happen in the past.

After a tweet in 2018 about this very situation - being left on a plane - the BBC journalist forced Heathrow to change its policy which is why wheelchairs are now delivered to plane doors rather than the terminal, even if it doesn't always work.

He says he has further ideas on how this system can be improved.

"To me, this is about allocating the right resources where they're needed," he says, suggesting the departure airport could inform the destination airport that a passenger might need assistance, before the plane has even left the ground.

"That would be a way of pre-empting this," Frank says. "It's not that they don't care, but it is a huge busy airport and they are frankly, not at the moment, up to the task of giving disabled passengers the service that they deserve."

After his latest apology from Heathrow, Frank quickly updated his followers: "Clearly still a way to go to stop this happening. Every time it happens to me it's happening to others around the UK."

Over to you...

Has this ever happened to you?

Do you have a good or bad experience of using airport assistance?

What would make the flying experience more relaxing for you?
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  • Alex_Scope
    Alex_Scope Posts: 7,562 Scope online community team
    I have a couple of bad experiences from when I was younger on family holidays, I had two manual chairs over the course of several years, and both were damaged after being squashed in the hold.

    My very first manual chair had a chunk taken out of one of the arm rests, and one of the break levers was pushed out of joint so that it no longer worked. 

    My second chair also got damaged, in that the bars of the seat wouldn't fit so snugly when trying to open the chair and put the cushion in. Frustrating, but technically still usable according to the airline.

    I think I would feel more relaxed if I knew there was a very low risk of damage to my chair, or in fact if I could see my chair from the plane seat, and it could be stored safely with the passengers rather than in the hold. But they way planes are designed I'm not sure that's possible?
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  • Richard_Scope
    Richard_Scope Posts: 3,560 Scope online community team
    This has happened to me more times than I can mention. For me, it is the only anxiety-inducing aspect of flying.
    The worst time I can remember was when I was about 12 years old. We landed in Heathrow but my wheelchair went to Johannesburg. It had been put on the wrong plane in Delhi.
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