Ryanair was fined for charging a wheelchair user but Eve-Ann Prentice says disabled travellers still get a raw deal when travelling
Sunday February 15, 2004
A couple of days after cerebral palsy sufferer Bob Ross was awarded £1,336 for being charged £18 by Ryanair to use an airport wheelchair, my severely disabled father, stepmother and I found ourselves at Luton airport.
It was nearly midnight, my 76-year-old father was stuck outside on a hoist that had lifted him from the aircraft, while my minuscule and frail stepmother was sheltering from a vicious wind, heroically trying to grapple with numerous bags containing medical equipment. While she waited to be reunited with her husband an immigration official appeared and started haranguing us to hurry through passport control.
Having just completed several months' of chemotherapy for cancer affecting my spine, I was unable to carry more than my own small bag and the young, fit-looking immigration man merely stared crossly at the luggage.
A few minutes later a cheery woman appeared pushing my father in his wheelchair, steered us through immigration - and promptly abandoned us in the baggage hall. Could anyone help us with the two trolleys and wheelchair which my stepmother was now expected to push through customs? 'Sorry,' said the wheelchair-pusher with a jolly-them-along smile, 'this is as far as I am expected to take you.'
My father, meanwhile, who had been crammed into a middle seat on the aircraft 'for safety reasons', too far back to reach the loo on the four-and-a-half hour flight, was now anxious to get to a lavatory. His discomfort was made worse because we had been kept on the Air 2000 aircraft for nearly an hour after landing while the hoist needed to get him off the plane was summoned.
It was a fitting end to a holiday which, though largely pleasant, was blighted on several occasions because holiday organisers and airport staff seemed not to have thought through carefully enough the needs of the disabled.
Our arrival in Tenerife was almost as fraught as the return to Luton. Several phone calls and £80 was supposed to guarantee a car between the airport and our hotel. A travel rep would be waiting for us, we were assured by Vacation Travel, who organised the trip. Not only was there no car waiting for us, but the travel rep had not even been told of our existence. Yet again we were dumped, this time in the middle of the busiest part of the arrivals area, with too much luggage to cope with single-handedly. It was an hour before my father was rescued from the melee.
At least a driver did turn up at the end of the holiday to take us back to the airport. However, he had not been told to expect a disabled pas senger and had brought 'the wrong type of vehicle to take a wheelchair'.
Meanwhile, no one ever bothered to speak directly to my father. I lost
count of the times my stepmother or I were asked by airport staff whether
he could walk a few steps while my father sat bemusedly watching. He suffers
from multiple sclerosis and they needed only to address him directly to
discover this has not affected his powers of speech.
Copyright © 2004, Guardian Newspapers Limited