Saturday, 15 February 2014

Easyjet's French Farce

The increase in airport security since 9/11 is rightly considered to be A Good Thing. Most people would consider an extra few minutes spent going through extra security checks to be a small price to pay for ensuring that the aircraft they are about to travel on is not hijacked and flown into the most famous and highly populated building that the terrorists can find. But at what point does security go too far? Is there a point where security is just used an excuse to treat people like shit?

Well yes there is, and the evidence was provided by minge-bag budget airline Easyjet this week. A court ruled that they must pay a £42,000 fine for ordering a disabled woman off a plane for what they claimed were security reasons. Initially they were only ordered to pay £4,500 but the fine was increased by almost ten times after the crappy airline appealed the decision. Back in March 2010 a French woman named Maria Patricia Hoarau boarded a flight back to Nice from Paris but was told that she would not be able to travel. Hoarau had committed the heinous crime of being a disabled person and being alone, the two things which the able bodied community appear to fear the most. Especially those in big business, for whom the merest whiff of a risk is reason enough to take discrimination to absurd levels.

Despite having taken the flight from Nice to Paris just a few days earlier Hoarau was told that since she did not have a 'helper' she would not be able to take the flight. Ever more brilliantly they informed her of this decision AFTER she had boarded the plane! Even when another passenger offered their assistance in the event of any emergency the airline refused to change their stance, claiming that they could not allow it as the pair had not checked in together.

Now let's talk about the word 'helper' for a moment. By and large, disabled people don't have 'helpers'. They have friends, family, boyfriends, girlfriends, husbands and wives. Just like you lot. In the event that none of these people are present at the time they wish to travel, they do so alone. Just like you lot. I get this shit when I ring up to order tickets for an event. I used to go to watch Saints on my own at Knowsley Road, but now they have a proper stadium I have to buy a season ticket. Not that I mind that, particularly. I'd much rather pay for a better view and a spec that you don't have to wheel through shit to get to. It also means I get to rock up five minutes before kick-off whereas previously if you weren't in your space at least half an hour before the game you could forget about seeing anything. Now I get one ticket free for my 'helper', the implication being that I could not possibly go anywhere on my own. Particularly not a fully accessible rugby stadium. Obviously. Or work. Bugger that. I'm an Undateable living on Benefits Street, remember. Back in the real world Emma comes to Saints with me most of the time, and on the rare occasions she does not I take my nephew Joe with me. My partner or my nephew. Never my fucking 'helper'. She's never available because she has gone on holiday with Easyjet.

Back to Hoarau, and the language used gets worse. Even from people who were speaking in support of Hoarau but who should know better, frankly. The French disabled rights association the APF commented that;

"We are pleased at this exemplary sentence against Easyjet for discriminating against this woman because of her handicap."

Handicap? Fuck off. If you are handicapped you are somehow worse off than everyone else and that is not really the image we are trying to project. A handicap is a disadvantage, an archaic term associated with the days when we were all educated in special schools away from the 'normal' children, lest our horrid diseases be spread around. Please can we not go back to that?

For her part, Hoarau was suitably miffed by the whole experience. After being marched back into the terminal and having to wait until a 'helper' could be found she remarked that;

"Being ordered off like that in front of my fellow passengers was a slap in the face. I felt humiliated and like a pariah who has no place in society."

You're spot on Ms Hoarau, that's exactly what you are in the eyes of far too many people considering it is 2014. A pariah who has no place in society. Tell you what though, you want to try being dragged backwards down an aircraft aisle while Rio Ferdinand stares at you impatiently on his way to his golfing trip in Portugal. Then you'll really feel like an outcast and a burden.

By now none of you will be surprised when I tell you that the words 'this has happened to me' are hurtling inexorably towards this article. This has happened to me. Or something like it. During my former life as a basketball player we had to take flights to Belfast and Dublin among other places with money-mad budget airlines masquerading as champions of our safety. They insisted that for every person we had in our party who could not walk we had to have one who could. Luckily disability is a wide and varied conidtion, so many of our party could actually walk (albeit some of them with a little less grace than others). So we got away with it and were able to travel. Oh how grateful we were. We were a party of probably 10 or 15 people. Try that on your own and you are very likely to end up in a similar position to Ms Hoarau. In the 21st century.

In defence of his rag-tag organisation Easyjet's French director Francois Bacchetta believes speed is the most important factor here. He hasn't got time to wait for social pariahs to get off his airplanes without the aid of a 'helper';

"In the event of an emergency, we need to be able to evacuate all passengers in 90 seconds." he explains.

Since Ms Hoarau boarded the plane without assistance I hardly think it likely that she would need more than that in the event of an emergency. I cannot board a plane without assistance, but only because to do so would be arduous and embarrassing. Were I to find myself on board one that had recently crash-landed in the Atlantic Ocean then 90 seconds to crawl from my seat to the nearest exit would be forever. Anyone who saw me ascend those stairs in Crystals in angry pursuit of my ex-girlfriend all those years ago can testify to that. I daresay that Ms Hoarau would have been able to disembark even more quickly. That they refused to allow another passenger to assist in the incredibly unlikely event of an emergency just craps down more shame on Easyjet and it's shitty, anti-disability, risk-fearing ways.

Oh, but they would like me to finish by pointing out that they did not charge Ms Hoarau for another flight ticket once they had found her a 'helper'. Hearts of gold.

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