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Thread: You might want to think twice about flying with British Airways

  1. #1

    You might want to think twice about flying with British Airways

    British Airways treating disabled people as an unwanted underclass.

    Myself and another paraplegic wheelchair user booked return flights from Heathrow to Denver leaving on Jan 23rd and returning on Feb 4th with British Airways. At the time of booking and again during the week before flying BA were very clearly informed that we two paraplegics flying unaccompanied and would need assistance to embark and disembark the plane.

    We checked in reported at the gate early as requested expecting to board prior to the main body of passengers as we had both done before with other airlines. At the last minute the staff at the gate informed us that the cabin crew were refusing to allow to board the plane as we did not have a able bodied companion to help us to the on board toilet should we need it. We assured the gate attendant that there was absolutely no way we would need the toilet and asked him to get the chief steward who was refusing to allow us to board to come to speak with us. Over the course of the next half an hour the gate attendant continued to act as intermediary between us and the steward who refused to budge from his position or to actually speak directly with us even though he was only about 20m away reinforcing his position by showing the gate attendant the rule book which gave him the authority to refuse us. In spite of being very upset we managed remain relatively calm and persistent and as a last resort we went through the whole embarrassing medical reasons (catheters and leg bags) as to why we could absolutely guarantee we would not need the toilet. The gate attendant then spotted that there was an exception in the rule book he’d been shown for people with catheters and went back to negotiate with the steward. We were only then told we would be allowed to board. As a last insult the Steward asked us to make sure that we didn’t remove our catheters during the flight – As if! We then had to be manhandled into our seats in the midst of everyone else boarding.

    On our return we were again embarked in the midst of everyone else. Then on arrival at Heathrow our chairs were taken from the hold to baggage reclaim and we were told in no uncertain terms that we were going to be pushed in the transit chairs through the airport like inconvenient pieces of luggage in spite of our requests for our chairs to be fetched for us. The staff allocated to us getting quite aggressive in their responses to our requests for our dignity to be respected.

    All of the above goes against the Department of Transport Guidance dated March 2003, ‘Access to Air Travel for Disabled People - Code of Practice’

    It’s clear that this is either a BA ploy to try to discourage disabled passengers or the result of untrained uncaring staff. I have sent a 5 page
    Letter of Complaint (Follow link to see the whole letter) to BA which they have, as yet, not even seen fit to acknowledge after 3 weeks.

    My problem now is what to do to take this further? Publicising this as much as possible to warn other disabled passengers not to travel with BA seems like they’re achieving exactly what they want to and not having to have the inconvenience of disabled passengers. I can’t use the DDA because as I understand it Air Travel isn’t covered. So all I can do is try to get every person – disabled or able bodied who reads this and thinks that our National Airline really ought to be treating disabled people with just a little respect and sensitivity and not as inconvenient bits of baggage to choose another airline wherever possible.

    Russ - T2 complete

  2. #2
    I am so sorry to hear of your bad experience with British Airways. Travel is an ordeal at the best of times, and from the sounds of it the BA staff turned it into a nightmare for you.
    I have travelled with BA and found them to be fine. It wasn't a long-haul flight though, so the question of how I would pee never came into it (nor should it anyway). I have done translantic travel with another airline and never got into any of the difficulty you did. In fact I was looked after very well (as was my chair).
    Complain all the way to the top about this. BA's policy must surely comply with international regulations. The resistance you met should be reported.
    Good luck.

  3. #3
    Very well written letter! Did you send it registered mail to ensure that it was received by the airline? Have you called to follow up yet? Please let us know how this turns out. I can't afford to fly anywhere, but if I could - it certainly would not be with BA, after hearing that! Good luck.

  4. #4
    Junior Member
    Join Date
    Apr 2004
    I don't know if this applies to British Airways since they are not an American airline, but for anyone having trouble with airlines' accommodations for disabled travelers, you can contact the U.S. Dept. of Transportation's Aviation Consumer Protection Division at There you can access info about compliance with the Air Carrier Access Act. You can also file a complaint by email to or call 202-366-2220. Hope this helps.

  5. #5
    Senior Member alex74's Avatar
    Join Date
    Mar 2005
    Hamilton, ON, CANADA
    thanks for posting's very interesting.

    i'm going to Italy in May with Alba tours and i hope that i don't experience any problems.

    keeping my fingers crossed!
    that's just the way I roll.

  6. #6
    Karla - yes it was sent recorded delivery. I've just today followed it up with letters to the Chief Exec and the Head of Customer Relations asking why it's not been even acknowledged in nearly 3 weeks. I've also been in contact with the disability rights commission and the european disability forum.

    Bella - unfortunately the UK and Europe is quite a few years behind the US in disability legislation. Our recent Disability discrimination act doesn't cover air travel. There's new european legislation going through which will prevent these sort of things but at the moment European Airlines are actually within their rights to do all that I experienced - it's going to be a few more years until we can force them to treat us fairly or sue them when they don't.

    Until then all we can do is try to use publicity to force their hand. I've been in touch with some consumer programmes (TV & Radio) to see if they're interested in the story.

    FWIW I've flown American Airlines a couple of times and they were superb. Unfortunately only BA fly direct to Denver from the UK.
    Russ - T2 complete

  7. #7
    Senior Member Jadis's Avatar
    Join Date
    Jun 2005
    Salish Mtns, Montana
    I thought the Air Carrier Access Act applied to foreign airlines operating in the United States.

  8. #8
    What an awful experience! My jaw was hanging as I read your letter. I am apalled.
    I'm also glad it wasn't me, 'cause I would not have been able to restrain myself as you and your friend did, and I would have gotten arrested!
    Let us know when you hear.

  9. #9
    Senior Member
    Join Date
    Apr 2005
    That sounds almost like bull to me as my experiences with BA since the injury have been nothing short of superior. I fly at least 3 roundtrips monthly, always Boston-Heathrow in First. I will quite often fly out on a friday morning to party in London for the weekend and return on a sunday and when I do this, I usually don't book before hand, rather I just show up to buy a ticket and the process has always been impeccable. Were you in First, Club, Steerage?, maybe class caused that crappy treatment, but like I said I am shocked. I personally would consider changing if Virgin or American offered some semblance of a first class cabin, but alas they do not, so I will not change.

  10. #10
    If BA does not reply, you might try sending your letter, with a cover letter, to a newspaper. The Guardian (in England) comes to mind. Public embarassment might get a response if decency does not.
    - Richard

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