By Bandula Kothalawala –
I wish to express extreme disappointment and disgust over the treatment I received at the hands of Emirates on EK006 and EK654 on 4 June 2015 from London to Colombo via Dubai.
I am a disabled person on a wheelchair. I made the booking after carefully reading the advice from the airline for passengers with special needs and complied with it. Emirates says, inter alia, on its website:
We provide storage for one passenger’s collapsible, manual wheelchair in the aircraft cabin on many Emirates aircraft on a first-come first-served basis, if you request for pre-boarding assistance at the departure gate. If you wish to take your own wheelchair to the gate, you must arrive at the gate at least 60 minutes prior to departure.
Wheelchairs or assistive devices that are too large or heavy to be accommodated in the aircraft cabin will be carried in the hold.
As advised by the airline, I talked to their customer services on the phone on three separate occasions five days before the flight on 4 June and informed them that I was travelling with my own wheelchair and that I needed it in Dubai, as I could not use any other wheelchair. On 4 June 2015 when I checked in, I made the request again. I was told that my own wheelchair would be available to me in Dubai and that they would send special instructions to their agents to the effect. My wheelchair which is manual and collapsible is much smaller than a standard wheelchair. British Airways often carries manual, collapsible wheelchairs in the aircraft cabin on request or arranges for them to be brought to the gates after landing. Prior to boarding, I asked a lady who introduced herself as supervisor for the flight (she said her name was Jackie) whether they could carry my wheelchair in the aircraft cabin. She said that they could not. This was despite the fact that the airline was using the world’s biggest passenger aircraft – A380 – on this route, but, repeatedly assured me that my wheelchair would be available to me at the gate in Dubai. However, when we landed in Dubai, the crew denied any knowledge of my request or any special message about it and asked me to use the wheelchair provided by the airline. When I told them that I could not use it at all and that I needed to go to the toilet after a 7-hour journey from London to Dubai, they were still adamant that I should use the wheelchair provided by the airline. Some of the crew members were very unpleasant, utterly insensitive and visibly incompetent, and displayed breath-taking arrogance. In the end, the agent, handling luggage for the airline, who saw my predicament, kindly offered to bring my wheelchair back to me and, at last I was able to use the toilet before my flight to Colombo. Despite my repeated requests, the crew failed to arrange for my wheelchair to be brought to the gate when we landed in Colombo. There were no major problems on my return journey from Colombo to London via Dubai on 21 June 2015.
In my twenty-odd years of international travel to various destinations in Europe Africa, Asia, North America and South America in the course of work in the International Department of the Trades Union Congress, never did I have to endure such callous treatment by aircrew. I can recall many an uncomfortable moment in aircraft and at airports, especially, in sub-Saharan Africa. However, they were mostly attributable to the lack of resources – absence of adequate facilities for people with reduced mobility in developing countries and not due to insensitivity, incompetence and/or sheer arrogance on the part of aircrew.
Transporters of animals, let alone human beings, have a duty of care and they often take it seriously.