A disabled woman who is paralyzed neck down was left waiting on a plane with no assistance despite booking for services well in advance.
Trigger Warning: This story contains details of ableist conduct that readers may find distressing.
A disabled woman who uses a wheelchair was stranded on a flight for 95 minutes due to the negligence of the staff.
Victoria Brignell, 45, arrived at Gatwick Airport on June 4 after flying from Malta with British Airways. Brignell, who is paralyzed from the neck down, uses a wheelchair and was aware that she would have to wait a short time to exit the plane, per Business Insider.
However, the staff at Gatwick airport, near London, never arrived to get her off the plane though she had booked their services much in advance. Despite her wheelchair arriving "promptly," she had to wait longer than she should have. Wilson James, a company hired by Gatwick to assist disabled passengers, did not show up to help her, reports The Guardian.
Disabled people are consistently treated appallingly on planes. I spoke to Victoria, who was left stranded on a flight for over 90 minutes when staff at Gatwick Airport failed to turn up and help her off the plane. https://t.co/lVwtKmWBhq— Bethany Dawson (@bethanymrd) June 11, 2022
Brignell recalled the incident, "Shortly after landing the BA airline staff came up to me and said they’re sorry but the people who are meant to help get me off the plane would not be there for 50 minutes." She added, "Time passed and I was then told it would be another half an hour on top of that. In the end I was waiting an hour and 35 minutes."
She further said, "I am paralyzed from the neck down so I can’t use my arms or legs. To get off a plane I need two people to lift me from the airplane seat into an aisle chair, which is a specially designed narrow wheelchair to push me along the aisle off the plane, and lift me into my wheelchair waiting outside." She added, "The people who were supposed to help me get off the plane didn’t turn up; they were busy elsewhere."
CAPTION THIS: My worst nightmare as a paraplegic. A disabled woman was stranded on a plane for a 'demeaning' 95 minutes after staff meant to help her off the flight were a no-show https://t.co/etpOHk0KH2 via @Yahoo— Leslie B (@Leslie_B68) June 12, 2022
Eventually, Brignell and the British Airways staff could wait no more, and the crew helped her off the plane.
Moreover, as commercial airlines do not have accessible toilets, Brignell was unable to use the restroom during the flight. She was trapped in an awkward posture propped up by pillows to support her body for the "frustrating" 95 minutes. She said, "I have been very nervous about travelling by plane because I had heard so many horror stories about people’s chairs going missing, but I went for the first time just before the pandemic, so this was the second time I’d gone abroad and my fourth flight."
She did, however, say that the British Airways workers offered her refreshments and also apologized for the situation. But because Brignell was unable to leave the aircraft, passengers waiting to board their plane were also delayed. "If you improve services for disabled people, you improve them for everybody, and you can see that here by the next flight being delayed by an hour and a half," she said.
Brignell stated that she got an apology from Gatwick through Twitter and that she intended to file an official complaint. A Gatwick airport spokesperson said, "The treatment received at the airport was unacceptable. Gatwick's Chief Executive and Chief Operating Officer have both spoken to and offered their sincere apologies to Victoria." They added, "This incident has been escalated and Gatwick and Wilson James, our assistance provider, are investigating how this happened as a matter of urgency."
Brignell further said, "I want to stress that this isn't an isolated incident." She remembered the recent instance of Daryl Tavernor, a wheelchair user who was left on a flight for two hours at Manchester airport and had to call the police to be taken out of the plane.
Brignell is now pushing for significant reforms in the airline sector to better accommodate disabled travelers. She said, "In the long term, we need to look towards having airplanes redesigned, so we can travel in our wheelchairs. That will avoid me needing staff to come and help me off the plane, it will make the journey much more comfortable for me, and thirdly it will avoid the risk of my wheelchair going missing or being broken."
"I can travel in my wheelchair on a bus, on a train, and in a taxi. In this day and age, I should be able to fly in my wheelchair, too," she added.
Representative Cover Image Source: Getty Images/kokouu