Greetings from Sydney: I have my wheels back!

Greetings from Sydney: I have my wheels back!

Following on from last week’s article about arriving in Sydney, only to find his wheelchair badly damaged by Singapore Airlines, Co-Editor Srin writes from his travels with some better news! He also invites readers to share their negative experiences with airlines to help bring some much needed exposure of the issue.

Good news! I have my wheels back! And this time all four of those wheels are firmly attached to a wheelchair. The repairs that have been carried out are a patch up job at best and the wheelchair still has a few issues that make it slightly harder to control, but hopefully, the temporary repairs will keep me going for the rest of my holiday.

Getting my wheelchair back has meant that I have finally been able to enjoy some of the sights and sounds of Sydney. In addition to spending time with the friends I have here, so far, I have been on a boat trip around Sydney Harbour and a day trip to the beach in Manly (pictured above). Later this week, the plan is to head out to the Blue Mountains and the Hunter Valley, and to also spend a bit more time taking in Sydney. We plan to do all of this using Sydney’s public transport system, so I look forward to reporting back on how this goes!

It was a real relief to get my wheelchair back this week as I was fearing the worst; being stuck in hotel room watching Aussie daytime TV (which I can assure you is just as bad as UK daytime TV!).

Since my post of last week, I have received many kind messages wishing me all the best, but I have also received many messages from other disabled travellers to tell me about similar experiences whereby airlines have destroyed their wheelchairs. It was also moving to hear of how many disabled travellers are put off from travelling purely because they fear this happening.

It is obvious to me that there is still a real problem, and why this problem exists, is something I can’t quite understand. The world’s major airlines make a fortune from transporting cargo around the world. Much of that cargo is likely to be far heavier and/or fragile than the average wheelchair. In order to transport such freight around the world, I’d make an educated guess that most, if not all, of the world’s major airports have the necessary lifting equipment to get a wheelchair on and off an airplane. Despite this, damage to wheelchairs seems to happen all too often.

Wheelchairs are safely transported routinely on pretty much every other form of transport in existence, yet for some reason, the air transport industry seems to still struggle. The events of the last week have really hit home as to how much of an issue this still is. When I return I want to raise this problem with the powers that be and the airline industry to see if we can get some real answers as to why airlines struggle with something that should be straigtforward these days.

To help me with this, I would be really grateful if all those who have emailed this week, and anyone else who has had a similar experience, could post their story on the comments section below. Please name the airline, the airport  and approximately when this happened.

Thank you.

By Srin Madipalli

If you would like to get in touch in addition to commenting, please email editor@disabilityhorizons.com, or message us on Facebook and tweet us at @DHorizons.

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  • Hi Srin,

    I will certainly help you lobby the powers that be and the airlines with this, it’s always a worry even when escorting my groups aroudn the world. The only reason I can see that cargo is different is that it is crated and in containers, not loose like wheelchairs, however, there should be NO excuses, how would the Ground Handlers feel if they lost their wheels/legs and couldn’t get around?

    Jean

  • MARK WILSON

    AIR TRAVEL AND THOSE PESKY DISABLED PASSENGERS, WILL SOMEONE SOMEWHERE STEP UP TO THE PLATE AND MAKE WRECKED WHEELCHAIRS AND DISCRIMINATORY ATTITUDES A THING OF THE PAST ????

    Srin Mallipalli’s recent piece about his airline wheelchair disaster LINK rang way too many bells, punched way too many buttons, and got me thinking, “will we ever see the day when airlines view disabled passengers in the same way as all travellers ? It’s been going on for decades this obstacle course that is air travel, whilst elsewhere access barriers are (too slowly I agree) being broken done by a welcome mixture of legislation and cultural change. But the airlines remain stubbornly “awkward” about disabled passengers in ways which range from mildly irritating too appalling discriminatory actions that in a modern world defy belief, yet it goes on and on and on….

    We get it really do. Airlines would be happy if EVERY passenger was :
    Wealthy, Athletic and in perfect health, had strong bladders meaning fewer toilets and more seats, and didn’t need to travel with any luggage, at all. Disabled passengers, particularly those who annoyingly insist on taking their awkward mobility aids with them, known elsewhere as “wheelchairs”, are not high on airlines list of favoured repeat business. Nope, we are apparently a right pain, from the moment we arrive at the airport to the time the plane dumps us at our destination. Well guess what, we’re here to stay and travelling more, so what will it take to change attitudes and the law and make it impossible to treat us like folk who have somehow managed to use real money to buy a ticket ?

    They say Sh** happens. Other people have their baggage wrecked and it can be a highly disturbing holiday ruining nightmare. But the victims can still exit the plane and get to their destination, albeit spending days washing the same clothes but still able to get around. When an airport or airline severely damages your one means of mobility it’s an experience way beyond a lost case. Yet it happens, i suspect a lot, and various “international treaties & conventions” exist to always limit the liability and leave you relying on the goodwill of those concerned to effect repairs in a way that somehow allows you to soldier on. Often of course when this happens, you see some airlines go to incredible lengths to make good on wrecked wheels, lost batteries, even lost chairs ! But the damage keeps on happening, it costs a small fortune and ruins travel for customers who often face many additional, stressful, hurdles to overcome just to meet Mickey at Disney or do business abroad.

    On our honeymoon to Villamoura in Portugal, or villahell as my darling wife calls it, my highly specialist one arm use wheelchair was wrecked (unbelievably) on the Tarmac at Manchester airport, yet some scared baggage handler put it back in the hold and left us to see the result at Faro airport. A hugely embarrassed Jet2com captain came to see us as we sat waiting for the “ambulift” off the plane to start our honeymoon.
    He couldn’t believe the way the wheel had been buckled and needless to say what followed was very tough. We were “saved” by the quite magnificent people at “Wheeling round the Algarve”, a brilliant organisation with stunningly effective staff and management.

    The chair was fixed after 8 days of our trip, which also saw Jet2com fly out a replacement wheel from the UK. We fought for six months for compensation and “won” back costs of electric wheelchair hire but nothing for the mess and upset. I’d seen something similar happen to a mate on a trip to Brisbane and again Singapore Airlines were stunningly good, paid a lot to get the chair repaired, but the damage to the holiday was immense.

    Why won’t airlines bite the expensive bullet and design safe “crates” that without taking up too much space protect wheelchairs more effectively ? Surely the cost benefit in time and money says “this is worth the outlay”? Why won’t handling agents at airports improve staff training to help staff see wheelchairs as treasured bits of glass, needing the most careful handling because if damaged is like breaking both your legs?

    It can be done if the culture changes. Airlines carry a lot of freight. Do you think that business customers would put up with wrecked goods on arrival? Yet human cargo is treated with something approach contempt when it comes to care around baggage and precious things like wheelchairs. Recent disgraceful international legal judgements now seem to make it “ok” to discriminate against disabled passengers, even if the law of “your” land has a raft of legislation to say otherwise.

    Damaged wheelchairs are just part of a sad picture that is air travel for disabled people. Badly run “special assist” services at airports can be just as soul destroying. Broken “ambu-lifts” that leave you sat on the tarmac are far more common than anyone might think. Seat allocation processes are often crazy, ending up with aisle wheelchair “journeys” from front to back of planes the size of a football field !

    The whole experience can be humiliating in the extreme, though sometimes funny despite the nightmare. I once heard the following announcement at a Spanish airport “will a Mr Wilson travelling in a wheelchair with a big blue flag on it please report to desk 10 to be secured on board” ! Or the classic from a special assist guy to my wife in a very large American airport or all places, “does he need the toilet now ma’am as we wouldn’t want him to go on the plane”. Sheesh, what a disaster us no legged one armed folk are when exploring sunnier climes ! And even when we are very good and use the disabled loo we have to navigate past the baby change kit and as I once had to do in Portugal, a Moped parked in the loo by the attendant because “your loo is bigger than the rest and I had to put my bike somewhere”.

    Srin was as ever, amazingly positive about his experience of seeing his vital chair severely damaged because someone refused to take responsibility, and crucially i suspect, the time, to stow it securely. But I despaired when I read Srins measured account because in this day of media power and social networking, it’s amazing that we let the airlines get away with such a cavalier disregard for the rights of disabled passengers. How do we change it ? I’m honestly stumped..and yes I’ve got three ! I really am lost as to who or what can make the difference here, because nothing has changed for 30 years in a disabled world that has otherwise changed out of all recognition in so many ways. Anyone got the answer ?

  • Every flight I think I’ve ever flown on has damaged a piece of my so called ‘medical equipment’ in one way or another! Most recent , Easy Jet totally trashed and squashed my portable hoist! Flying from Gatwick to Faro. As I was boarding the pane we saw everyone’s luggage being driven to the plane and at the bottom of the pile was my Hoist!!!! I could still see the massive FRAGILE sign stuck on it, what a shame they didn’t!

    Monach Airlines – Gatwick -Gran Caneria, snapped my foot plate in half, ripped both arm rests and also damaged my hoist. 

    Like Srin , Singapore Airlines – Heathrow to Sydney, 8yrs ago must have stacked  everyone’s suitcases on top of my chair as my front wheel and and seating cushions took the hit.
    I would however like to say, Easy Jet did act quickly once I contacted them on my return. I had to get quotes for repairs but in their case it was beyond repair and a new one was paid for. However this did not change the fact that whilst on holiday it caused much upset and stress. Fortunately I was in a country where I could hire a similar item.
    Always take photos of the damage, report to the airport where it happened this is very important, don’t wait until you get home. Keep all receipts for any inconvenience related to the damage! 
    I now insist on always carrying in our hand luggage; my joystick controller, battery charger, and moulded back cushion and Roho.These are the most fragile and crucial items to me that is of course presuming one gets there chair back in one piece?????!!!!!

  • denise

    I have just recently got my electric wheelchair, in the hope that now I will have some freedom and the possibility of going abroad without having to rely on my family getting me in an out of a manual chair. But now I don’t think I’d like to chance it. I also don’t think there is enough websites to given information for disabled people. If you can hire equipment abroad I think that would be the way to go. Also transport and if you can hire cars which will hold an electric wheelchair and if taxis do too. Most people enjoy going away and can even get themselves a bargain, but when you have a disability you seem to miss out on all the fun and incur more expense!

    Love the website nice to have place to go to get info and to share and read other’s experiences!