Frank Gardner’s wheelchair

By | Category: Travel rumblings

A clearly exasperated BBC journalist, Frank Gardner issued a bitter tweet last weekend due to the fact that he was left sitting on a plane at Heathrow whilst officials located his wheelchair. It seems that it took staff at the airport well over 70 minutes (that was when Gardner tweeted) to locate it. Some estimates say it was long as 100 minutes before it was found.

Gardner said that it was not the first time his wheelchair had got “lost” at Heathrow. Readers with long memories might remember that Just about Travel has written before about how the airport can treat disabled people. This is despite the fact that Heathrow – and a number of other UK airports – signed up to a CAA sponsored programme on how those with disabilities should be treated.

A little later over the weekend, Gardner met Heathrow CEO, John Holland Kaye, and talked about disability and problems getting through airports and onto planes. He said afterwards that he had just spent “one of the most constructive hours of my life.”  But how many of us would be able to have the clout that Gardner obviously has and be able to speak to an airport CEO within 24 hours?

After the meeting, Holland Kaye said Heathrow would aim to help disabled passengers off the plane within 20 minutes of landing. An “aim” is not the same as a guarantee and until another high-profile flyer with disabilities has a problem it is unlikely that we will know if that “aim” is being realised.

Personal wheelchairs, I am told, become integral to the user. The familiarity of your own space and knowing what you can and cannot do brings comfort. The thought that a wheelchair might be personally lost is an unpleasant thought as I found out a few years ago when a colleague flew out of Heathrow and her wheelchair couldn’t be found for loading.

After the event, the BBC reported that Holland Kaye said that disabled passengers stranded on planes at Heathrow would not receive compensation for the delay. Perhaps if there were compensation, Heathrow and other airports might be a little more efficient!

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