Wednesday, August 25, 2010

EasyJet stops more power wheelchair users from flying

From The Daily Mail:

A disabled woman was stopped from boarding an easyJet flight because her wheelchair was deemed a 'health and safety hazard'.

Hannah-Lou Blackall (pictured), 24, who has muscular dystrophy and cannot walk more than just a few steps, was told her one-metre-long wheelchair was 'too heavy' for ground staff crew to lift.

Instead the budget airline insisted Miss Blackall, who was due to fly from Gatwick airport to visit a friend in Poland, have the 140kg battery-operated wheelchair dismantled to meet its 60kg weight restrictions.

Miss Blackall, from Norfolk, who works at Hull-based disability charity Danny's Dream, said she had travelled with other airlines without any problems.

She added: 'It's discrimination against people in wheelchairs. There are laws against this and it shouldn't be allowed to happen.

'Most people with muscular dystrophy need a larger and more powerful wheelchair.
'But easyJet said I can't take wheelchairs over 60kg. They told me there are health and safety reasons for me not being allowed to fly.

'It is really frustrating. You cannot just dismantle my wheelchair, its very complicated. If you do, you'll need an engineer to put it all back together gain.
'We are calling for all airlines to change their policy and make it easier for disabled people to fly.'

Miss Blackall has needed a wheelchair since she was born with the genetic muscle-wasting disease which affects around 70,000 people in the UK.

Her £4,000 Groove wheelchair weighs 120kg or 140kg with battery while a standard metal wheelchair weighs under 60kg.

She hopes to travel to Krakow next month but easyJet is the only carrier which flies direct.

The incident comes as a survey by muscular dystrophy charity Trailblazers revealed another three wheelchair users have been turned away by easyJet while trying to book a flight in the past year.

The no-frills airline has promised to apologise personally to Miss Blackall and any customer who have been refused flights.

A spokesman for easyJet said passengers with mobility problems must contact the operators two days before their flight.

He added: 'EasyJet welcomes more than a quarter of a million passengers with reduced mobility every year and we regularly carry powered wheelchairs, provided they can be collapsed into separate parts weighing less than 60kg each.

'This is a necessity to protect the health and safety of the baggage handlers who have to lift the wheelchair into the aircraft.'

The Trailblazers survey also revealed Ryanair and Bmi airlines charge people £100 a flight if they need to take oxygen on board.

It also found Ryanair, Bmi, British Airways and Virgin do not charge or place restrictions on wheelchair weight.

Spokesman Bobby Ancil said: 'It is totally unacceptable and discriminatory for leading airlines to impose rules making it impossible for disabled people to use their service.

'Powered wheelchairs are essential for many disabled people, not least many of the 70,000 people affected by muscle diseases.

'Suggesting that these people can travel without this vital equipment would be nonsense.'