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AIRPORT ASSISTANCE FOR THE DISABLED…… IS IT ME? By Mike Jackson

I am disabled with polio in both legs, and as a result of developing Post polio syndrome (PPS) I now walk with the aid of crutches. I experience difficulties in walking and climbing stairs.  During June with four friends  my wife and I decided to take our first trip abroad on a Rhine river cruise since I had to use crutches. I advised the tour company that I would require disabled assistance at the airports and on the airlines. The tour company advised me that the airlines would provide assistance at their check in desks but I had to organise for transfer from my taxi to the check in with airport assistance. The Rhine cruise involved flying from Birmingham to Amsterdam and returning to Birmingham from Zurich. On contacting Birmingham Special Assistance group

OCS thirty-six hours before departure I booked to be picked up by wheelchair at the Drop and Go car park at the airport and to be taken to the check in desk. I explained my walking limitation and that I could not climb stairs. I phoned prior to arrival and was advised to call OCS from a call point adjacent to the car Park ticket machine. On arrival I could not locate the call point and in heavy rain I walked with difficulty to the terminal ad found the OCS reception. They confirmed my wheelchair booking but did not have a record that I could not climb stairs. They then advised me that I should check in at the other end of the airport and return to them at which time they would push me to the departure lounge. After pointing out my disability they offered to provide a chair for one of our group to push me to the check in. At the KLM desk they confirmed my request for disabled assistance particularly in Amsterdam .and suggested that my friends wheeled me to the OCS desk in the departure lounge where I booked in for assistance.

When the flight was announced I was taken to the stand and seated on the aircraft before other passengers boarded the plane. On arrival in Amsterdam we were located on the airfield and my wife went by bus to baggage reclaim whilst I with another passenger with crutches awaited collection. When the vehicle arrived it did not have a lift facility and we were both requested to use the steps with an assistant in front and behind us to prevent us falling. They then transported us to the airport where we were to be met by two assistants with wheelchairs.. On arrival there was nobody there and after 20 mins and a lot of phone calls an attendant arrive with one chair and I was seated. Several more phone calls and 15 mins later the attendant stated that we would have to move to baggage reclaim to find another chair. The other person on crutches had to walk. At the baggage reclaim the attendant told my wife she would have to look after me whilst she tried to find another wheelchair. As a result of the delay our coach transport had left and we had to wait a further hour for a coach. Having experienced problems on the outward journey I advised both the tour operator and the Disabled assistance at Zurich airport that we required assistance on the way home. This was confirmed.

However on arrival .at Zurich airport our coach was not met by the disable assistance team and the tour courier obtained a wheelchair and took me to the Helvetic Airways Check in, who advised me that provided I was taken by my friends to the departure gate  they had organised transport with a lift to the plane. At the departure gate I was requested to wait on the side and they would arrange my transport. At this point I assumed I would be collected with my wife and we would be taken across the airport to the plane. Boarding was announced and we had to join the queue and wait in the same area as those boarding the bus. Eventually the vehicle lift arrived and I was transported to the aircraft but could not be placed aboard as the service vehicle was loading food. At that point a call was received to state that the lift vehicle had forgotten another disabled passenger who was waiting in the airport to catch the same flight. We then returned to the airport and picked up a very distressed lady. Eventually we boarded the plane 30 mins after its planned departure and realised that we were being held responsible for the delay.        On arrival at Birmingham my wife went with her friends to baggage reclaim and I with the other disabled passenger awaited assistance, which eventually arrived after calls from the cabin staff and a 20-minute delay. The attendants were neither apologetic or friendly and rushed us through to baggage reclaim, and instead of taking me to our taxi they pushed me up to our group and walked away leaving my friends and my wife to reorganise the baggage etc to release one to push me to the taxi..

IS IT ME OR WAS I JUST UNLUCKY, OR HAVE OTHER DISABLED PEOPLE HAD SIMILAR EXPERIENCES WITH AIRPORT & AIRLINE ASSISTANCE?

Without the assistance of my friends I do not know how my wife and I would have managed the trip on our own.