Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Disabled athletes going home from IPC World Championships stranded at Dubai airport

From BBC News:

An airline has apologised after Paralympian Tanni Grey-Thompson (pictured)and 34 athletes were left stranded in Dubai.

She says they were left on their plane for an hour as staff worked with one wheelchair to get them to the airport terminal, missing onward flights.

Emirates has apologised for delays as the passengers were en route home from IPC World Championships in New Zealand.

A statement said most passengers had since left on new flights with two due to travel home on Wednesday.

"There were 35 wheelchair users on the plane coming home. When we arrived at Dubai we were left on the plane for an hour," said Baroness Grey-Thompson, who is now a BBC commentator and a coach.

"I only had an hour and three quarters to make a connecting flight, some people had less."

Dame Tanni is due back in the UK later on Tuesday, but some athletes who had been competing in the IPC World Championships in New Zealand could be stranded longer, she told BBC Radio Wales.

She said the athletes' wheelchairs are stored in the aircraft hold and, usually, a temporary chair is provided at the airport.

"You kind of feel you're having your dignity taken away," she said.

"You're in a chair that's not your own.

"It's like being asked to wear someone else's clothes. That's what it's like sitting in another person's wheelchair."

Over her career, the Paralympian smashed a string of world records and won numerous titles including 11 Olympic gold medals at the Barcelona, Atlanta, Sydney and Athens games, as well as winning the London Marathon six times.

An Emirates spokesperson said the company "apologises for the inconvenience caused" to passengers travelling on flight EK419 from Christchurch to Dubai.

"Dedicated lifting equipment and ample personnel were immediately deployed as part of the preparation to assist the passengers to disembark but when the aircraft landed there was an unforeseen delay in accessing the passengers' wheelchairs from the aircraft," said a statement.

"The situation was made more complex as the easy-access parking stand planned for this aircraft had to be relinquished at the last minute to a flight coming in with a medical emergency on board.

"This meant that EK419 was required to park remotely, necessitating the transfer of the passengers to the terminal by bus.

"All affected passengers who missed their connecting flights have now been accommodated on other Emirates flights departing today."

The statement said Emirates prides itself on offering passengers with reduced mobility an "excellent standard of care", adding that during 2010 a total of 360,000 Emirates passengers with reduced mobility were "successfully assisted" through Dubai International Airport.