Airlines and airports must be more disability friendly
11 April 2023
By Melissa Ryan
When it comes to catering for the needs of passengers with disabilities, most airlines and airports display atrocious levels of customer service.
People with disabilities have been left standing in pain at weigh bridges at airports-because someone has forgotten to bring them a wheelchair, some passengers have had to crawl or be carried out of planes due to no wheelchairs being supplied, assistance dogs have been mistreated by airline staff, and passengers who are quite independent and may only need a bathroom door to be held open-have been told that they need to travel with a carer who can assist them.
There have also been incidences where wheelchairs, other mobility aids or specialised equipment have been broken, due to the rough handling of baggage handlers.
However, this dismissive attitude does not only apply to airlines, but also to airports. Passengers with disabilities have been left to struggle to push their wheelchair as well as carrying their luggage, some have waited long periods of time to get off planes and some have been given no assistance, when it comes to navigating their way around the airport.
I remember one instance when I was travelling back from a family holiday in Tasmania, we flew from Tasmania to Melbourne and then got a connecting flight to Brisbane . When we got to Melbourne, we were informed that there were no wheelchairs available and I would have to walk from one end of the Terminal to the other.
While I can walk, I can only walk short distances and normally rely on a wheelchair for long distances. As I walk a bit slower than everyone else , we approximated that the walk would take me at least a hour, maybe 1.5 hours. Luckily after 45 minutes, a staff member came along with a wheelchair I could use. As a result of this experience, both my back and hips were arching for the next few days.
In another instance on a trip back from New Zealand, cabin crew and cleaners sat around chatting, while they watched my family struggle to help me to get off the plane. On the same flight I nearly did not get a meal , bizarrely because I was travelling with a walker and a small bag-to this day I still fail to connect the dots.
At other times when my family and I have travelled by plane, we have been left in long queues, with my parents trying to juggle pushing a wheelchair and pushing a trolley with heavy luggage at the same time. We have also been left to our own devices, when trying to navigate our way from the air bridge to the customs area.
I have also heard of instances where passengers with disabilities have had to wait a considerable time-sometimes for hours to get off a plane, one woman had to crawl off a plane-due to the fact that there were no wheelchairs available, a passenger with a disability who made his particular needs clearly known at the time of check -in, being tossed off a place due to the fact that he was travelling alone and despite the fact that he had travelled alone on planes many times before, and many passengers with disabilities being injured, due to the unsafe use of hoists by airline staff.
I find these stories to be horrifying and fear that one day this will lead to adverse outcomes for someone with disability. This has already happened in the United Kingdom, where unsafe airline practices led to the death of a person with a disability.
Both airlines and airports are providing poor customer service to passengers with disabilities and they seamlessly don’t care unless there is threat of media attention tarnishing their representation. This being the case, a limelight should be beamed on the whole industry to send a clear message: “it’s about time people with disabilities are treated in a dignified matter”.