A quadriplegic passenger who landed at Gatwick Airport on Saturday was left waiting for airport staff to assist her off the plane over one and a half hours, despite her announcing the airport she needed the service months in advance.
I booked the help three months in advance, it wasn’t as if I just turned up, they knew I was coming, and I reminded them two weeks ago, and still I didn’t get the service that I should expect to have.Victoria Brignell
Victoria Brignell is quadriplegic, she cannot use her arms or legs, and she was told it would take 50 minutes for airport staff to come help her, but was left waiting until the cabin crew of the following flight using the same plane came aboard. The British Airways staff provided her with some drinks while she waited and ultimately helped her off the plane.
“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. My wheelchair arrived promptly, but the people who were supposed to help me get off the plane didn’t turn up – they were busy elsewhere”, she explained for the BBC.
I have been very nervous about travelling by plane because I had heard so many horror stories about people’s chairs going missing. I just feel in 2022 people shouldn’t be stuck on a plane for that long. UK airports need to get their act together and plan their staffing appropriately.Victoria Brignell
Besides the simple inconvenience of waiting, Victoria was also unable to use the bathroom during this time and her carers could not go off duty. Passengers for the next flight were also unable to board the plane, resulting in the delay of the flight.
Victoria’s friend, Sonia Sodha was the one who tweeted about the incident, thus drawing the attention of the airport, but also of the entire online community.
In response to the tweet, other people came forward with their own stories of being stuck on airplanes because of the lack of proper procedures for the handling of disabled people.
I decided to get on the floor and pull myself off the plane.Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson, former Paralympian
The story also drove former Paralympian Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson to recall a similar incident: “I was flying to Berlin, the plane was two and a half hours late, but after waiting just over half an hour on board they couldn’t give me any clear indication of when the assistance was going to come. My chair was at the gate, so I decided to get on the floor and pull myself off the plane.”
Gatwick Airport has apologised to Victoria and said an investigation will be launched. “The treatment received at Gatwick Airport was unacceptable and I would like to offer our sincere apologies to Victoria. This incident has been escalated and Gatwick and Wilson James, our assistance provider, are investigating how this happened as a matter of urgency”, an airport spokesperson told BBC.
“We are deeply disappointed to have delivered a poor service on this occasion. While the aviation sector in particular is struggling with well-documented pressures, Ms Brignell’s experience is unacceptable and falls far below our values and aims”, continued a spokesperson for the airport’s assistance provider.
While this is under no circumstances an excuse for the airport’s actions, or rather inactions, people online also pointed out that airports in the UK, just like many other industries, are still faced with a grave lack of labour because of Brexit. All airports are currently understaffed and struggling to provide proper services.