‘Humiliating and traumatic’: Disabled woman carried off flight after special assistance failed to appear

A disabled woman has spoken out about feeling “traumatised and humiliated” after special assistance failed to arrive and help her onboard a flight at Newcastle Airport, causing a delay of 90 minutes to the flight.

Suzanne Croft, a wheelchair user with muscular dystrophy, had arrived at Newcastle International on Thursday, 9 June for a flight to London, when she says no special assistance was available to help her onto the plane.

Ms Croft had pre-booked the airport assistance but no staff or equipment were available, meaning the other passengers had to board and wait on the aircraft until she could be assisted.

As her wheelchair then had to be loaded into the hold, the British Airways flight was delayed for 90 minutes in total.

“I felt so embarrassed and it has left me quite traumatised,” she told ChronicleLive.

“The rest of the passengers had already been boarded so long they had been given snacks and water – and they didn’t look happy.

“As a wheelchair user, it was so humiliating to be loaded onto the plane and into my seat in front of everyone. I felt so upset and guilty to be the cause of a one-hour delay in departure, as well as the knock-on delays on the following flights.”

Even worse, when her flight landed at Heathrow Airport, she says that special assistance again failed to arrive.

After the other passengers had departed, she says, “the crew and captain of the next flight boarded and both captains were radioing for special assistance, but none was available.

“In the end, my husband, who is 66, had to lift me out of the seat, assisted by the new crew, and they had to place me in a folding aisle chair that had no seat belt.

“My husband held my legs in while a kind crew member of the next flight pushed me to the arrival lounge.”

She added: “It’s not the waiting, I’m used to that. It’s the indignity and humiliation.

“It’s just not good enough. I don’t want to get the cabin crew and the captain into trouble, they were so helpful and kind. The captain even carried our luggage to the taxi.

“I know the special assistance people are doing the best job they can. There’s just not enough special assistance staff and equipment, that’s the problem.”

Ms Croft now says that she dreads future flights, saying “I don’t ever want to fly again”. She had travelled to Newcastle to take part in important clinical studies taking place at the Royal Victoria Infirmary.

She and Muscular Dystrophy UK are calling for the government and the aviation industry to take action to prevent this scenario happening again in future and ensure disabled passengers get the assistance they are legally entitled to.

Newcastle International apologised for Ms Croft’s experience, but said the delay was caused by a “non-airport-related issue”, adding that the special assistance team was fully operational and all equipment was available at the time.

A spokesperson said: “We take the experience of our passengers with reduced mobility extremely seriously and work closely with disability groups to ensure we continue to provide the comprehensive and reliable service our passengers deserve.

“In the latest independent CAA audit of our Assistance provision the Airport ranked in the highest, ‘Very Good’, category, with subsequent assessments being very complimentary about the level of service provided.

“On the day of Mrs Croft’s flight to London the team were fully staffed and all equipment was available. Due to non-airport-related issues, passengers boarded the aircraft later than planned and with short notice. As soon as the Passenger Assistance Team was made aware that the aircraft was boarding, Mrs Croft was taken to the gate.

“We are sorry to hear that boarding the aircraft after the other passengers caused embarrassment for Mrs Croft. We would like to reassure passengers with reduced mobility that year to date the Assistance Team has handled over 10,000 passengers and feedback on the service provided has been extremely positive.”

A Heathrow Airport spokeswoman said: “We are very sorry for the delay Ms Croft experienced last week and we are investigating the incident. All organisations across the airport are getting ready to meet the strong summer demand and are working hard to ensure everyone travelling through the airport can enjoy a smooth passenger experience.”

The Independent has approached British Airways for comment.

Douglas Mateo

Douglas holds a position as a content writer at Neptune Pine. His academic qualifications in journalism and home science have offered her a wide base from which to line various topics. He has a proficiency in scripting articles related to the Health industry, including new findings, disease-related, or epidemic-related news. Apart from this, Douglas writes an independent blog and assists people in living healthy life.

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