Is access for disabled travellers really improving? The BBC’s Frank Gardner says the fight for fair access continues. What are your experiences?
Frank Gardner says that he doesn’t want to be known as a ‘serial whinger’. There’s not much risk of that.
He was shot six times by Al Qaeda, partially paralysed, and yet still returned to his job as the BBC’s Security Correspondent without ever ‘whinging’ about his terrible experience.
Yet in recent years he’s been almost as well known for his viral tweets about travelling with a disability as he is for his insights into the security situation in the Middle East.
I am in total solidarity with Justin Levene, the paraplegic guy shown on BBC 6pm news who refused to be strapped into a wheelchair he couldn’t push at Luton airport. This is about independence + personal dignity as well as simple mobility.
— Frank Gardner (@FrankRGardner) November 2, 2018
In 2012 he made headlines when he booked a flight to Nairobi, only to be told that Kenya Airways didn’t have an aisle wheelchair, so he wouldn’t be able to use the loo for eight hours.
Its suggested solution was that he use a catheter but, as he puts it, apologising for the language, “to put it bluntly, you can’t c**p through a catheter!’.
Left stuck… again
Luckily he still has good upper body strength and could just about get around with a frame and callipers but, when he got to the airport in London, they told him that the frame was too big. Only after his friends kicked up a fuss was he allowed on board.
Then there was the time in March last year when staff at Heathrow lost his wheelchair and he was stuck on the plane for two hours.
Then the time in October last year, again at Heathrow, when staff got stuck in the lift that was supposed to be transporting him from the plane, leaving him stuck, again.
He’d also frequently find that his wheelchair would be waiting for him in the terminal, rather than at the door of the aircraft. ‘What a batty idea,’ he says. ‘Instead of your own wheelchair they’d give you some clanking Victorian contraption.’
However, it’s not all bad news. His ‘whinging’ has often worked. His experiences with Kenya Airlines resulted in him being invited to Nairobi to meet the CEO.
The company then changed its policy. His experiences at Heathrow also shook up senior staff who, again, invited him in to see what could be improved.
‘Things have got much better since I’ve complained,’ he says. ‘Both Heathrow and British Airways have made great strides. At Heathrow the wheelchair is now left at the door of the plane not in the terminal. More airports are doing that now.’
But there are still issues. He still complains of being unnecessarily man-handled.
“It’s really rude to grab you by the arm without your permission. Somebody did that to me at Geneva Airport and so I grabbed him back. The important thing is to never make assumptions and to treat people as individuals. It’s so simple to just ask ‘what can I do to help?’ and the answer sometimes might be ‘thank you, but I don’t need any help right now”
It could be that one reason Frank’s experience has improved, however, is that airports and airlines know that, if they mess with him, the story could be all over the internet the next day.
We know that, sometimes, ‘whinging’ is the only thing that works. At Which? Travel we want to hear about people’s experiences of using special assistance at airports or of travelling with a disability.
Do you agree with Frank that things are getting better?
What else needs to be done? Let us know in the comments below or send your stories directly to firstname.lastname@example.org