On 19 October 2015 I was due to fly to Glasgow using your services. I was denied carriage on the flight due to my disability. This was after being felt up by the airport’s ground crew on the tarmac when being ‘transferred’ to an aisle chair, being ignored by airport staff who insisted on only talking to my personal assistant rather than to me, and being improperly checked in at the airline’s ticket desk. During the brief time I was onboard the aircraft, the pilot singled out the fact that the ground crew was having difficulty loading my wheelchair on to the aircraft as the reason for an hour long delay. Soon after the announcement, I was removed from the airplane and told I would be flying that day. After this, my wheelchair was returned to me so damaged that it was ultimately no longer safe to drive.
In 2016 airlines and airports are still careless with handling mobility equipment, choosing to see a wheelchair as just ‘baggage’ rather than a medical necessity.
Being fondled, treated badly, and having your wheelchair damaged is just a fact of life if you choose to fly with a disability. I’ve just come to expect it.
What I was not prepared for was the utter negligence both British Airways and London City Airport have shown. Eight months after the event I am still without my mobility, nor has any reasonable offer of compensation been made.
On Friday, 16 October I called British Airways to let them know I would be flying with an electric wheelchair. I gave them the measurements and battery information of my wheelchair. I was told that my wheelchair was okay to fly, that there was no need to remove the battery, and that British Airways would pass all the information on to the staff at London City Airport.
Later, I would find out that my wheelchair actually exceeded limitations of what London City Airport could handle. I would be asked to remove my wheelchair’s battery at the airport (which is impossible) and airport staff had no idea I was in the building.
Why was my wheelchair ever green lit to fly in the first place? Why did no one call me over the weekend to say I should fly out of another airport? I would have gladly gone to a different airport if I had only been given the right information to protect myself and my mobility.
While still at the airport I told Antonella (who worked at the British Airways customer service desk) and Emmanuel (who worked for London City Airport) that my wheelchair was behaving erratically and making noises it shouldn’t make. I stated that I was worried there was long term damage done to my wheelchair that wasn’t apparent at that moment in the airport. It was already not functioning properly. Both encouraged me to go home and call or tweet customer service to get the situation sorted. Antonella took my ticket number and made notes on a computer so that the situation would be on record.
In an email dated 12 February, Joanna McLachlan, a solicitor for London City Airport would say “Ms Stevens did not report the damage to her wheelchair whilst at the Airport.”
Did you think a disabled woman wouldn’t write down the names of the people she complained to? Where are the notes Antonella wrote? Did they just disappear?
Upon returning home from the airport, after getting over the initial shock of how I was treated that morning. I contacted both of you and explained what had happened as well as the damage that had been done to my chair. On 20 October 2016 I was given the reference number 14605263 by British Airways over a DM on Twitter.
Later BA’s and LCA’s solicitors would claim that I did not make a complaint about my wheelchair being broken until long after the incident.
Did you think someone with a disability didn’t have enough sense to keep a reference number?
A few weeks later I found out that according to EU Regulation 1107/2006 a person whose wheelchair was damaged in an airport was entitled to a temporary replacement chair provided by the airport.
I shouldn’t have been sent home without replacement wheelchair being offered. This was not done.
Did you think I wouldn’t find out what I was entitled to? Why did Antonella and Emmanuel not make it known that I was entitled to a temporary replacement wheelchair before I left the airport?
On 10 November, upon finding out that I was entitled to a temporary replacement wheelchair, I emailed Kerry Anderson, terminal administrator at London City Airport, detailing what my needs were for a temporary wheelchair and asking for a ramp to be provided so I could get into my flat independently as I was dependent on the functions of my old wheelchair to do this.
Later, Marlene Santos, another terminal administrator at London City Airport, and Joanna McLachlan would say I never told anyone what I needed in a replacement wheelchair.
Why would you say this when we both have email records that I did?
On November 25, after not hearing from Kerry Anderson for over two weeks, both my PA and I emailed her as a matter of urgency. We again told Anderson that I needed a temporary replacement wheelchair, this time providing an exact model and a web address for the manufacturer. Although the wheelchair would not be suitable long term, it was the best solution we could find on the market while we sought to repair my own wheelchair.
That afternoon Marlene Santos wrote back to me explaining that Kerry was now away and saying “ We have viewed the [link] you attached to your e mail however it would appear that even this would not provide an immediate solution to your current situation.”
In an email dated 12 February Joanna McLachlan writes “Ms Stevens did not indicate that she required a replacement wheelchair.”
What part of ‘here is the wheelchair that I need’ was not clear?
We tried to have a phone meeting on many occasions to get London City Airport to provide me with a temporary replacement wheelchair as per their obligation. It took months to get you to come to the table.
A few hours before the phone meeting was scheduled, Joanna McLachlan cancelled because she “had a cold.” The phone meeting never happened.
Do you think this is professional behaviour towards someone who has been robbed of their mobility for months?
In December I was told by London City Airport that it was a British Airways engineer that tampered with the battery of my wheelchair, thus causing the internal damage. For the record, I find this doubtful given that someone would need to remove the seat entirely to get to the wheelchair’s battery. But I was happy that someone was going to take responsibility after nearly two months of having nothing.
British Airways maintains that there is no evidence that any damage done to my wheelchair was their fault.
So which is it?
I was then passed over to Matt Budd and Gareth Jones. London City Airport could wash their hands of me it seemed, and it was now in the hands of the liability adjustors working on the behalf of British Airways. On 9 December I emailed them explaining what I needed in a temporary replacement wheelchair, a ramp to get into my flat, my broken wheelchair to be assessed by the manufacturer, and compensation for two months of being without my mobility.
On 18 December I had a phone conversation with Budd and Jones claiming that I never told them what my needs were. I was also told “the situation can’t be that bad if you are still working on film shoots.”
I am a film maker. I run a company of five employees who make films. It is my job. If I don’t do my job, five people do not have money to feed their families. If I had quit my job and given my employees the sack would you have taken my situation more seriously?
In an ideal world my damaged wheelchair needs to be inspected and repaired. In fact I have asked both British Airways and London City Airport to contact DEKA, the company who developed my wheelchair, to sort the problem. This is evidenced in emails written to Marlene and Kerry on 4 November 2015, 1 December 2015, 18 December 2015, 12 January 2016, 14 January 2016, 25 January 2016 and others. Likewise emails sent to Matt Budd and Gareth Jones dated 9 December 2015, 18 December 2015, 30 December 2015 and others.
And yet both British Airways and London City Airport maintain that I am the one refusing to allow my wheelchair to be inspected and repaired. This is simply untrue. What I have said is that I will not allow my wheelchair to be inspected by someone who is unfamiliar with the particular brand of wheelchair I have. Furthermore British Airways and London City Airport have insisted that I am the one who must go to DEKA, explain what these parties did to damage my wheelchair, and get help. Why? You took away my mobility. You damaged my wheelchair. You have lawyers, PR folks, HR people, interns. How about while I do everything to keep my life together despite the mess you made, you pick up a phone, shoot off some emails, and figure out how to clean up after yourself?
Do you think I am being a Drama Queen? Do you think I am faking the whole situation? Would you treat a Paralympic athlete this way? Would you expect a person whose legs you cut off to just ‘figure out how to fix it and bill us later?’ Do you think that those of us with disabilities are out to work the system and claim victimhood? Why would I stand in the way of my own mobility? Do you think I have nothing better to do with my time? Are your standards that low for all of us with disabilities. Are you an ableist?
On 30 December 2015 I finally had to hire a wheelchair so that I could continue with my job and other obligations. It didn’t have all the features of my previous wheelchair. And indeed I couldn’t even get in and out of my flat independently, but at least I had some mobility back and I was doing what I could to minimise cost. I wrote Kerry and Marlene at London City Airport as well Matt Budd, Gareth Jones, and Joanna Stovlod at McLarens Aviation informing them that I had found a temporary replacement wheelchair and asking somebody, anybody, to help pay for it as per EU 1107/2006
There was no response.
Why would you think ignoring someone’s medical needs was ever an appropriate response?
This past weekend British Airways told James Meikle from The Guardian that they will pay for damages beyond the Montreal Conversion Rate when the company is found to be responsible for the damages.
Then why do I have multiple letters from British Airways’s lawyers, the most recent of which is dated 1 March 2016 saying the BA “maintains its position that, should [you] prove that damage alleged was caused by [us], our client’s liability will be limited to that which already offered.”
Again, which is it? Why is your tune changing now that journalists, lawyers, and the Equalities and Human Rights Commission have weighed in? Over 52,000 people have signed a petition of 38 Degrees saying that this was wrong. You did nothing. To my understanding, over 6,000 people sent an email to the British Airways CEO. You did nothing. There have been massive Twitter Storms about this since January. You did nothing, There have been articles written about this case in every national paper in the UK as well as on the BBC and ITV. You did nothing. You do not get to change your story now. You left too much of a trail of documentation and bad behaviour behind you.
There’s more, of course. I have found that both of your organisations have an incredible aptitude for digging themselves into a hole. But what is more disturbing is the number of other people with disabilities who have also been treated badly by both British Airways and London City Airport. From broken and lost wheelchairs to BA’s ‘guide dog tax’ your record for the treatment of disabled people leaves a lot to be desired. In April of this year, the USA fined British Airways for your treatment of disabled customers. Regardless of how many Paralympic athletes you fly, regardless of what public statements you make about how much you ‘care’ about your customers with disabilities, it is the people you fail and then continue to try and brush off that determines your character.
Over the past eight months you have taken away my mobility, you have jeopardised my health by refusing a piece of medical equipment to which I am entitled, you have sought to play the blame game rather than taking action, you have sapped my precious energy, you have made me have to face the prospect of moving house, you have wasted my money, forced me to hire extra care and services, taken away my independence, put my safety at risk as I can no longer leave my house on my own, you have caused me to hire solicitors and barristers to sort out what is mine by right and regulation, you have ignored my suggestions on how to make the situation better, above all else you have wasted my time at every turn.
I am almost done. This mess that has been created by both or organisations is so thick, it is doubtful we will ever figure out what actually happened. I am most concerned about regaining my full mobility and getting back the massive financial losses that have had and persist as a result of this situation. By continuing to point fingers and look for blame you are simply making my loss greater and heaping more coals on your head. I suggest you start looking in earnest at that idea, as well as what I am about to say.
It is a well known fact that the disability rights movement has been slow to progress. Many of us struggle to get out of bed in the morning, feed ourselves, and battle with the basic activities of daily living most abled bodied people take for granted. Many would give up, not have the energy to fight this battle, they cannot file away everything that was said and record all the emails. They simply lack the strength. This is why so many inconsistencies and half truths prevail in our society, why people like Kerry, Marlene, Matt, Gareth, Joanna and others continue to play the blame game and waste time rather than actually taking action, and why I refuse to let up until this is set right.
I have been wronged by the actions and inactions of your organisations. While you parade your Paralympic athletes and have a double standard of care for the rest of us who are disabled, while you refuse to follow EU Regulations and blame the passenger when their mobility is lost, you are forgetting one key factor. If you live long enough, you will become disabled. The rights and respect you give disabled people today will determine the rights and respect that you will be afforded someday when you need help. I am not just standing up for my rights, I am not just standing up for the rights of ‘the disabled’, I am not just standing up for the rights of some political special interest group who are shining in the media spotlight for the current moment.
I am standing up for what will someday be your rights as well.
The Period Route
March 24, 2017
Subtitles? Transcriptions? The debate with disability and media