Saturday, 18 February 2017

Being Treated Like Cattle Without So Much As A Discount

Where are you going on your holidays? Yes, I know it's February and all but there's no harm in having something to look forward to. Especially for me right now since for the last couple of weeks I have been setting world standards for absolute prickery, such is the level of my anxiety, frustration and overwhelming sense of worthlessness. I really must do better.

I'm going to Florida in July. The 17th to be precise, which is fully 149 days away. Not that anyone is counting. But I didn't come here to gloat and anyway due to the aforementioned anxiety, frustration, overwhelming sense of worthlessness and its resulting absolute prickery 149 days might just as well be 149 years. I'm really only focused on getting through single days at a time. No, the reason I mention my holidays is because it ties in with the actual theme of this piece which is the standard of assistance given to wheelchair users in airports. Or lack thereof. Those among you with mobility issues will already know what I'm talking about but the rest of you might not have considered what some of us have to endure just to get on board an aeroplane.

Disability campaigners have. When asked as part of a BBC investigation into the matter Disability Wales said that the service, provided at most of the UK airports by a company called Omniserv, was 'shocking'. A Mrs Mel Davies, a wheelchair user from Pontadawe near Port Talbot complained that she was left in pain on two occasions after being incorrectly lifted by Onniserv assistance staff. Mel crossed her arms over her chest in anticipation of being lifted by her arms only to find that the staff had their own ideas as to the best technique for the job. One grabbed her under the armpits while the other attempted to lift her by the chest. By the fucking chest! Now, I know that it's the era of alternate facts and that the current President of the United States actively encourages the grabbing of women by whichever part of their anatomy takes your fancy, but surely in UK law this constitutes some sort of sexual assault? Have we really reached the point in our society's decline that we now think it impossible to touch disabled women inappropriately because they're just not bothered about that sort of thing anyway? This sort of de-feminising, de-humanising palaver cannot stand. It is little wonder I spend large parts of my day silently fuming at Other People.

To put the top hat on it, it turns out that Mel has had surgery for breast cancer. So as well as the indignity she suffered, the teen-like fumbling of Omniserv's staff also caused her a great deal of physical pain. For an encore, they then left Mel waiting at the aircraft door when it was time to disembark, leaving the airline staff to help her off the plane. I can especially relate to this. Every flight I take ends with at least a 20-minute wait after all of the abled passengers have left the scene as the highly complex task of finding two blokes who can push an aisle chair is undertaken. Thankfully I don't need lifting on or off said aisle chair which is just as well as it would waste even more time than is already written off during the traditional argument about whether or not they bring my own wheelchair to the aircraft door. For reasons best known to people who can wiggle their toes (and why the fuck do you want to do that anyway?) they seem to think that any old wheelchair is acceptable until you get to baggage reclaim. As if wheelchairs are a one size fits all thing and are in no way personal. Like fucking condoms. I steadfastly refuse to leave my seat until they bring MY chair which wastes my own time but is far better than the alternative.

Mel is not alone in having problems with Omniserv. Jen Crispin from Hampshire suffered similarly. Her assistants were so technically inept in the lifting stakes that the person she was travelling with had to do the honours, while on another occasion she was left waiting to exit the plane for over 90 minutes, by which time someone had taken the bizarre decision to shut baggage reclaim! Ah....what does it matter? If cripples don't qualify as sexual assault victims then perhaps they don't need luggage either. They're not real people, after all..

Heather McQueen from Perth missed her connecting flight because of similarly piss poor Omniservice and has vowed never to fly alone again as a result. While understandable, this is not the answer to the problem. In the first place you miss out on travelling which closes all sorts of doors for you personally and professionally at a time when there are enough right wing bellends trying to do that for you. In the second place it means one less disabled traveller, and the fewer of us there are the more likely it is that those of us who do persist will be treated with complete disregard. You have to keep going, keep persisting and keep reminding them that disabled people aren't just going to go away, unsightly though we are.

It's not just when boarding and leaving planes that we experience the ineptitude of airport services. Emma has been asked before now whether the wheelchair has a name, while I love to reminisce about one joyous episode in Salou when a member of staff came up behind me and put his hands on my back in an attempt to push me towards the gate. In what world is it acceptable to just grunt, nod and put your hands on someone? A paying customer? We don't get a fucking discount for being treated like cattle.

I often think that the worst part of all this is that in 2017 they haven't thought of a way to make aeroplanes wheelchair accessible. I mean, try having a piss on one when you can't stand up. On our flight to and from New York three years ago they had to physically remove the door from the toilet cubicle to stop me from pissing on their seats. Meanwhile, anyone who can't walk can expect to be routinely dragged backwards down the aisle to the seat furthest away from the door as possible in full view of the other passengers. Which on one occasion included a rather impatient looking Rio Ferdinand. What Rio? You think YOU'RE the one being inconvenienced?

Still, I'm looking forward to Florida should my neurosis allow me to make it that far. It's more likely to stop me than the cringe-inducing incompetence of airport staff.

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