Back to the bad old days

A family celebration in Jersey was ruined by my experience at the hands of the EasyJet handling agent. I use a lightweight manual wheelchair and on arrival in the island from Gatwick, it had been brought to the aircraft door as expected. With a handler’s help we negotiated the boarding ramp with ease and my wife, daughter and I were soon joining the Covid Queue. A seamless procedure – one I have come to expect during many flights this century.

Our return flight provided a different experience. Before pre-boarding EZY896 (13/9/21), I was informed I would not be permitted to use my own chair to scale the ramp. Instead, I would have to transfer to one of their devices, then again to an aisle chair to reach my seat.

The chair waiting for me was totally unsuitable. A flimsy affair, the armrests were fixed making a transfer awkward at best. The footrest was tiny, offering little room (let alone support) for my size 8 paralysed feet. It looked more like a coal-sack trolley and I refused to be loaded onto it. I explained that my own chair had proved perfectly adequate four days previously.

Initially the handler acquiesced but by the time I moved onto the ramp, he had obviously been rebriefed. We argued but I was conscious that my fellow passengers would not be on my side for long. With difficulty I managed to transfer and my feet immediately fell off the rest, one becoming trapped underneath. I continued to argue with the handler (a man in his 60s with a grey beard and a badly-fitted face mask) until at the aircraft door he lost his temper. He thrust his face into mine, wagged his finger and threatened to have me removed from the flight. (The exchange was witnessed by the flight crew. He said I had been rude; I had told him to shut up.)

I was now furious. The handler’s complete lack of empathy reminded me of behaviour I encountered when I was newly disabled – 30+ years ago. Since then, airport and airline staff around the world have been trained and, until this incident, I felt confident that I would be treated with consideration and my dignity more-or-less preserved.

I want this man to be reprimanded, relevant procedures reviewed and passenger-facing staff retrained. @EasyJet has so far ignored me (I sent a survey response to the CEO the following day) but I have had an apology from @JerseyPorts, who are in touch with (the agent) @SwissportUK.

Wheelchair users do not like using unfamiliar substitutes – in extreme cases they can be dangerous – and, as far as practical, they should be avoided. But more importantly, in the 21st century, disabled passengers are entitled to expect a far better service than I received in my former home the other day.

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