Katrianah (silvers_shadows) wrote in bad_service,

How not to treat a disabled passenger

A few things before I get to the suck - I'm a relatively young (26) woman with a severe chronic illness and related condition, as well as mental health issues, namely anxiety and depression. Unfortunately, my illnesses tend to feed off each other, which can cause all kinds of fun. Depending on the severity of the illness, I can appear anything from fit and healthy (ha!) to visibly disabled (using a wheelchair).

My husband and I recently got married. Our families very generously helped pay for a honeymoon trip which involved Dragon*Con in Atlanta, and then going to Orlando in Florida. This suck occurs on the way home from said honeymoon.

We left Orlando on an internal flight to New York's JFK airport, to pick up a connecting flight to Manchester, England. When we arrived at Orlando it was clear I was not going to be able to walk for the majority of the trip, and we asked the airline staff (Delta. Yeah... I know. Not our choice, this will be relayed in another post when I can vastly reduce the f-bombs) at check in if they could make arrangements for a wheelchair to meet us at both JFK and Manchester because I was having difficulty walking, and it would get worse.

To their credit, the staff at Orlando were excellent, and provided a wheelchair for me to use there. It was of the type the user to could operate themselves if they were able to use their arms, which I am, so I was quite happy wheeling myself around most of the time. When we got to the gate, I made sure to ask (note: ASK) if they pre-boarded disabled passengers, and received an affirmative. I let the gate staff know roughly where we'd be in relation to the desk, all good. When the time came, we were pre-boarded, had seats on the bulkhead so I didn't have to hobble/stumble very far down the plane (my legs were giving out at this point), all was good.

Then we got to JFK.

We sit until the plane has pretty much emptied, I haul myself upright and pretty much fall back down again. I'd gotten worse, as anticipated, and I'm pretty damn glad we requested assistance. The stewardess who was manning the door comes back to let us know the wheelchairs aren't here yet, but if we want we can sit in the bigger seats in First. Husband helps me up there, and I plonk down in a seat.

By the time the wheelchair and assistant turn up, the flight staff are clearly annoyed at the time they have taken, but quick to reassure us that a) they know we can't move off the plane without help/being abandoned on the ramp and b) it's not us they're annoyed with by any stretch of the imagination.

Husband helps me out into the jet way and onto the wheelchair. The assistant is extremely abrupt, whips the chair around to face the ramp before I'm seated properly, and sets off up the ramp without checking to see if my husband is with us (he was actually delayed sorting out his hand luggage and getting out his own walking stick - he has fibromyalgia). I ask her to wait for him, and she huffs, but stops, clearly annoyed. He catches up, and we set off again.

As we're going up the ramp, there is a lip to the next section - I'd like to note that when I was taken down the ramp in Orlando, the staffer who wheeled me down took me down backwards to make the ramp easier because of these lips. Everything was explained to me in advance, and he warned me of every lip because he had to tilt the chair very slightly to make sure we got over it smoothly.

Not this woman. She *yanks* me back so fast I actually shriek because I think the chair is going over, and rams the chair over it, then stops and goes "Oh, I should have warned you, huh?". Yes, yes you bloody should have! I ask if she can let me know if she needs to do that in future and I get a dismissive "Sure, whatever." The assistant then asks which flight we're going for. I tell her the time and destination, and she asks for my boarding pass to check.

We get to the top of the ramp and into the gate area, and she snatches the boarding pass out of my hand and stalks off to a phone. By this point I'm getting a bit upset, and a lot anxious. I don't like people taking my boarding pass away from me without warning because I get paranoid I'll lose it, and I especially don't like people walking off out of my line of sight, which the assistant ended up doing because the phone she initially went to wasn't working. My husband starts to look for her when she reappears, makes a muttered comment about Gate something or other (I didn't actually catch which gate), and starts off abruptly with me again.

I'm wheeled fairly rapidly through the terminal, to a ramp near our gate. Again, she whips me around and without warning tilts me backward to take me down it, this time making me whimper - it's a reflex action to shock. I knew we were going down the ramp, I didn't know I was going down backwards or tilted and I don't like it, especially when I asked to be warned after last time.

Getting to the gate is a relief. The assistant parks up next to the clearly marked disabled chairs and they're all occupied. "Someone gotta move." She says to them, "I need to put this girl on there."

Wait, what? There are two and a half hours until my next flight, and I cannot walk beyond a shuffle over a short distance at this point. I explain this to her. "Not my problem. Get on a chair and I'll go tell the gate staff you're here. Someone else will pick you up and take you down the ramp at boarding time."

I'm too shocked to do anything except drag myself out of the wheelchair and onto a seat that someone kindly vacated for me. The assistant attempts to leave when I remind her she still has my boarding pass, which I'd asked repeatedly for while we'd been moving. She pulls a face, and then takes it out of her pocket and shoves it in my hand before heading off to a desk to inform the staff I'm there.

I wish this suck ended here.

About an hour before boarding is due to begin, there's activity at the gate desk. My husband goes up to ask if they will pre-board disabled passengers, and is given the rude response of "And your disability is?" in a very hostile tone. He points out it's actually me who will be boarding from a wheelchair, and the gate agent snaps "We'll call you." He comes back, and relays this to me, disgusted.

Boarding time comes, and they announce they will now be boarding passengers who "need a little extra time". No wheelchair, no assistant. Husband heads back up to the desk to find out what the hell is going on, the gate agent who is checking boarding passes tells him to sit back down, and that "They will announce when disabled passengers or those who need more time can board". He points out that announcement was just made by his colleague, and that my wheelchair still isn't here. Husband is directed to a woman who is on the phone sorting something else out for a passenger.

While he's waiting for this woman to finish serving her other customer, the first agent he dealt with asks for passengers in First to start boarding. By this point, I'm starting to freak out. There's still no wheelchair, and I cannot walk down the ramp and then through the plane, I won't make it that far. I know I'll probably struggle just to get from the plane door to my seat without falling.

Husband comes back from the gate desk looking furious. The original assistant told staff on the WRONG GATE (the gate desks are next to each other, but each flight is clearly marked on the electronic display on the back) that I was there, and that flight and its staff left already. The gate assistant rang for a wheelchair, and one has to come from ANOTHER TERMINAL. By this point, the plane is boarding all passengers.

By the time the wheelchair arrives, the crush is in full swing. I get wheeled down to the gate, and after a few attempts get myself out of the chair, and leaning heavily on my walking stick, stumble onto the plane. First is relatively clear, so I think to myself that I'm okay, and I can manage to get to our seats which are just behind it with a little leaning on chairs and apologising to passengers (thankfully those who had aisle seats told me not to worry about it, even the poor gentleman whose lap I nearly ended up in).

I'm taking my time because I can hardly move, and the people behind us are getting pissy about it, I get through the silly curtain at the end of First Class... and someone is sat in our assigned seats. I show them our boarding passes with our seat assignments and ask them if they'd mind moving. The passengers promptly inform us that they were assigned these seats when they arrived at JFK, and they're not getting out of them because they "need the legroom".


These seats were assigned to us at Orlando when we were booked through. Someone has overridden this. The only seats not occupied at THE BACK OF THE PLANE. By this point, I'm feeling sick, extremely dizzy, and I'm in agony. The passengers are adamant they won't move, and the stewardess tells us she won't make them move, that we have to sit at the back. The gentleman in the seat opposite offers to let me sit down while we sort this out, but the stewardess snaps that I need to get a move on and get sat down at the back because I'm delaying the flight. I have to sit there, this is non-negotiable, and if I argue, I will be considered in violation of the FAA rule of obeying flight crew and will be removed.

Overreaction much?

I make my slow way down the plane, during which time people are still shoving things into overhead lockers, and despite my inability to move very well, won't get out of the aisle even when I ask them politely. By the time I reach my seat I'm in tears, and I collapse, luckily into my chair. My husband looks like he's about ready to commit murder. I don't remember much after that except being ordered to put my seatbelt on. According to my husband, I blacked out briefly (which is common with my medical condition), but not long enough to cause concern - beyond 10-15 minutes is bad, otherwise I'm best just left alone.

Departure time comes and I'm a bit more lucid but still in a lot of pain. The stewardess who threatened to have us thrown off the plane comes stomping back down the aisle muttering about a missing passenger and how we're never going to get out of the gate. Despite the fact I'm in obvious distress, and my husband trying to get her attention so I can get some water to take my painkillers, we're ignored. Thankfully a lady in front of us has some water she got in the airport, and is quite concerned. I reassure her I'll be okay, and thank her for the drink. I just want to get home.

After all that, there's a bloody electrical storm and we're stuck on the tarmac for three hours. Luckily someone had the sense to turn the in-flight entertainment system on. I think that's the first time I've seen a plane full of people collectively playing Bejewelled.

When I got home, I found out that we should have been asked if I wanted to stay in the wheelchair - someone would have collected it from the gate when I had boarded if that was the case. I should NOT have been left in a seat with no means of getting around for two and half hours. 

On the plus side, the gentleman handling wheelchairs at Manchester airport was AWESOME.

Tags: *airline/airport services, ^wtf, baaaaaaad service, bloody hell, business breaking the rules, customers shouldn't get what they want, define: doozy, helpful comments, just here for the tags, lazy worker, lots and lots and lots of words, omfg, psycho clerk, see what happens when you speak up, tagger tags with love, two sucks one post, uncaring service
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