British Airways Tells Quadriplegic Teen With Broken Wheel Chair to Pay a Porter For Help

A father and daughter were traveling from Toronto to London. The 14 year old girl is quadriplegic and has cerebral palsy. They had gone to Canada to watch ice hockey after her deep brain stimulation treatments.

At the airport staff dropped her wheelchair and broke it.

The damage meant quadriplegic Bethany, who also has Cerebral Palsy, couldn’t reach the joystick she needs to move the chair around as the arm was shattered and dragging on the ground.

The girl’s father says British Airways told him as a result he’d “pay for a porter if he wanted assistance getting through Heathrow’s Terminal Five.” He’d have to “push daughter Bethany, two large cases and their hand luggage alone after they landed in England.”

London Heathrow Terminal 5

According to British Airways, “We work extremely hard to provide customers with individual needs with the help and assistance they require during their journey.” Ahem. They say they’re “in the process” of getting the wheelchair repaired.

When the family got home they managed to provide a temporary fix to the wheelchair with £65 in nuts and bolts so she could go to school.

(HT: Ryan Boyd)

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. Sadly, this is NOT in the least bit surprising.

    My partner had Polio as a five months old child, and is permanently disabled due to the well known, and long documented, effects of this insidious disease that is readily apparent from a distance, and for which he has even been willing to provide certification from his doctor confirming his disability in order to assuage any doubts by airlines that he is faking his disability to obtain “special privileges”.

    And make NO MISTAKE, the despicable actions start at the top of each and every airline now, and are NOT, repeat, NOT, a reflection of how front line employees actions, behaviors and attitudes in our experience.

    Oh, sure, we’ve encountered “bad” employees, but these “bad” employees are just bad employees who treat everyone poorly, not just my partner on account of him being disabled.

    But those bad apples are rare.

    Instead, what we now encounter more and more, are very kind and considerate employees who WANT to do more, but who are constrained by the greedy, soul-less, despicable ghouls above them who care about nothing but lining their own pockets at any cost, and for whom most of these sons of “witches” would probably sell out their own mothers if it meant putting another nickel and dime in their own pockets.

    In fact, we’re in the middle of a trip right now where we suspect the very kind folks at this airline’s disabled services desk wants to help out more than they have, but have been holding back due to bs fare rules that we’ve offered to pay the difference to be upgraded to better seats, but the “rules” won’t allow.

    Never before in all of my years dating back to the mid-1970s when I began working as a travel agent at one of the premier travel agencies on Long Island that was among the very first to have the American Airlines SABRE terminals installed, and in any of the other airline industry related work I have done (published, bylined writer for PlaneBusiness Banter between 1999-2004; research & consulting work for several leading airlines with operations at JFK Airport in NYC) have I ever encountered such greed, arrogance and callousness as I’m seeing first hand when I travel with my partner, or when he tells me of his experiences when he travels alone for work as he does fairly often.

    Never before.

    And it’s not just the long ago bad airlines like the newly “US Airwaysed” American Airlines exhibiting this despicable greed and palpable contempt towards their disabled passengers.

    It’s what we thought were the “better” airlines like Southwest, or as now being experienced on our current trip, Virgin Atlantic, where the rot starts at the top.

    Southwest seemed utterly unfazed when I contacted them in late November to describe how my partner, and several other disabled passengers, were completely abandoned and left in the lurch at the far end of Concourse C at BWI, when neither wheechairs nor attendants were provided at all when our flight from RDU arrived, and our connecting flight was at a gate on the B Concourse.

    In fact, we and the other disabled passengers waited so long, that the Captain took it upon herself to round up wheelchairs, and then pushed my partner up the jetway and into the terminal where I took over for the rest of the distance between the gates on two different concourses at BWI.

    I took to Twitter to inform Southwest of my partner’s, and the other disabled passengers’ experience at BWI was that night, and all they cared about was getting me to delete the two or three tweets I made.

    After that, they acted like they could care less until, finally, after several weeks and several lengthy DM’s, somebody at Southwest seemed to at least offer a note of apology.

    Turning to Virgin Atlantic, let’s be clear: with the exception of only one “bad” or in this case a surly employee at a call center, their staff in general have been very thoughtful and attentive.

    The problem is, while as polite as polite can be, they can’t actually DO ANYTHING – even when one has made clear they’re willing to pay EXACTLY what they’re seeing available for the fares and/or upgrades being offered to others – as in OTHERS who are NOT disabled but for whom the algorithms have been kinder nearly every day AFTER we bought our tickets.

    Everyone is so sweet and so kind it’s hard to find fault with them. Yet in the end, it’s as if one is just being told to pound sand, just in a kinder, gentler fashion, if only because, well, rules are rules, and gosh darnet, so sorry the algorithms screwed you and your partner while the non-disabled folks can get the seats nearly every day AFTER you purchased yours, but we won’t allow you to change your tickets EVEN IF YOU HAVE SAID YOU WILL PAY FOR THE BETTER SEATS!!!

    It’s all so awful. And so arrogant, greedy and callous. That’s what our airlines, and many others now around the world such as British Airways, have become or are becoming.

    If this is what deregulation is all about, then it’s an abject failure and it’s time to reregulate our airlines ASAP.

    When we lose our humanity to this degree, as airline managements clearly now have, then they have truly failed completely and can no longer be trusted with our lives – and certainly do NOT deserve to be (obscenely over)paid with our hard earned money.


  2. Howard Miller. Thanks for your post. You are 100% correct! It is the greedy scum executives who are behind the inhuman things you described. They really couldn’t care less about giving their employees the ability to do the right thing.

  3. Howard Miller, as the father of a special needs child I applaud your energy. However you lost me halfway thru with your novel.

  4. @Howard Miller, thanks for the explanatory post. And thanks to @Ryan Boyd for spot lighting the hassle that Christian McGill and family had to endure. I didn’t read all the details, but what I sense is that airlines using heavily taxpayer subsidized airports and using taxpayer airspace, believe they exist solely for the benefit of their employees and shareholders. I may not agree with all of the ADA and similar laws mandated on smaller businesses and sole-proprietors as well as large organizations, that help to facilitate disabled individuals ability to function as independently as possible, but when it comes to taxpayer funded buildings and infrastructure, i have little tolerance for airlines that cannot figure out how to accommodate people with unusual needs, particularly as illustrated in the story and comment. I would add that larger individuals, who need either more leg room or seat room to travel on the equivalent of a bus usually to a place they have to go, not want to go, and may not be eligible for business or FC seating, should be included in this group. But even they would yield to handicapped individuals illustrated here.
    I reread the story by Howard, and am reminded quite simply that air travel is the only practical option for injured and handicapped individuals, as surface travel is so slow it makes even simple journeys both onerous and perhaps medically impossible.
    SWA and BA need to brush up on situational training, without going to extremes, to simply help front line, decision making, employees aware of the countless difficulties encountered every day by their customers. Start with computer based training, and those that fail the course, can try to navigate Terminal 5 Heathrow in a broken wheel chair. Within six months, we should be reading one story after another about how nice the experience was for those that are otherwise homebound to travel on an airplane and use the airports they are paying for.

  5. Not surprised by BA at LHR. Had an incident with wheelchair for relative; we were flying J class. It was an utterly disgraceful show.
    I wrote to BA HQ CEO. Received apology and 20K Avios. It wasn’t about the compensation, trust me. The affair at LHR with a BA staffer was beyond the pale, primitive, rude and in your face attitude that I wish I had recorded with video. So, forget about British manners, charming accents. They can be the most snooty and crude folks. Ask any Scotsman what he/she thinks. They’ll tell you.

  6. Howard,
    I read the entire comment and I’m lost. Can you give some specific situations regarding your partner and the airlines’ lack of care? I’m by no means saying you don’t have a right to be angry. Just wondering, as I’m sure others are, If it’s too personal, we’ll understand.

    Perhaps I missed the examples ?

  7. BA should do a lot more. Sadly, all airlines are driving “costs” down to increase the execs profit margins.
    Breaking a wheelchair should be cause for replacement of the wheelchair. One can understand not being able to organise the same model immediately, but at least ensure that the girl can leave the airport in a dignified manner.
    Pretty disappointing.

  8. If I read the comment correctly then all I have to say is pay for the seats you want, when you want them. The issues you seem to have with changes could then be precluded.
    As to BA …… bloody awful really no longer covers it.

  9. I am a epileptic and this makes me very leery of doing any kind of travelling. Driving is out of the question and our bus and rail systems are a joke.

  10. There’s not a single “hard-hearted but tough-minded” comment, so I’ll give it a go – these kind of issues can be rectified by 1) the customer paying additional cargo rates such that the product being shipped is automatically insured and 2) the airline refusing to take liability (release waivers) for taking possession over X value.

    I’m all for as much social inclusion as the next fellow, but we have to keep in mind that it’s not endless – as with all things, all you have to do to have a better experience is to pay more.

  11. @ADPThere’s not….

    So, if I hear you correctly, if you are handicapped, you should say: A, pay extra. Or, if you are provider, don’t offer services to handicapped customers.

    What part of the Constitution or rights of the disabled don’t you understand?

  12. Were the porters who broke the wheelchair BA employees? ‘The Sun’ doesn’t say so, which means it is not the case. Therefore BA should not be getting 99% of the ire here. Apparently one employee made a thoughtless remark but the cause of the problem was the Toronto airport employee’s, not BA.

  13. I think @Howard’s point is: if airlines can accommodate a peacock flying as an emotional support companion, then they can accommodate a person that needs wheelchair after deplaning.
    30% disability is not the same as 70% disabled, and somehow cheaters need to be screened, but these examples are obvious and the airline/airport apparently had not planned for this predictable situation.
    The likely explanation involves costs, but customers did not pick the gate but did pay for the airport. Airlines have the resources and incentive to accommodate disabled customers and their wheelchairs, or they can buy and build their own airports. Unlike the comfort support companion (personally, I do not oppose pets in the cabin), the customized wheelchair is a life support companion to the disabled. SWA and BWI and BA can do better.

  14. My partner & I are in Cape Town, South Africa, so I’m not as diligent about replying to comments made by others at the moment.

    However, as soon as time permits, or certainly after returning to NYC (late Monday, March 5th), I will be more than happy to reply with additional details about our recent experiences with Southwest Airlines and Virgin Atlantic…

    …the exceptionally good, the exceptionally bad, and everything in between!

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