Continued from my previous blog, Preflight Checks, on travelling with disabilities and health conditions.
As I said in my previous post, I was due to fly with EasyJet from Liverpool John Lennon Airport. I had exchanged multiple emails with EasyJet’s assistance team, not all successful, but I felt as confident as I could that I had assistance booked. When I contacted EasyJet regarding assistance, I mentioned needing assistance with baggage due to fatigue and pain, assistance through security/passport control etc, assistance boarding the aircraft, the need to be sat with my travelling companion and not in the emergency exit rows, and the need for the cabin crew to be aware, as I would be unable to see the safety briefings, as well as my need to bring refrigerated medication (that bit wasn’t so successful).
So, we arrived at Liverpool airport on the 28th, and looked for the Big Blue Phone I had been told I could use to contact assistance. We couldn’t find it. No, it wasn’t just me (although it frankly wasn’t a great suggestion to someone with a visual impairment), my sighted companion couldn’t find it either. So, we progressed to the EasyJet check in desk, me struggling with my luggage. The woman confirmed that assistance was listed on my booking. then asked “so what assistance do you need?”!
*sigh*. So why had I bothered contacting them in advance, and explaining in detail? I explained, again, while there was a large queue of people waiting behind me to check in.
We were directed to the assistance desk, where I told them again that I’d booked assistance. “What sort of assistance do you need, love?”. DE JA VU! Again, I explained.
We were instructed to sit down and wait. It wasn’t long before one of the staff members approached us. With a wheelchair!!!
When he brought the wheelchair over to me, I looked up, laughed, and said, good naturedly, “oh, I don’t need a wheelchair!”. I assumed there had been a mistake. I did NOT expect his response to be “yes you do!”.
I’m sure my demeanour turned decidedly frosty as I replied “No, I REALLY don’t!”. This man proceeded to guide us around the airport. By that, I mean, he waved his arms around vaguely and said “over there” a lot. Not a recognised guiding technique for the visually impaired, to be sure. He also did not offer his arm/elbow, or offer assistance with bags, at any point.
When we got to security, I started to explain that I had liquid medication that needed to be declared. I had researched this, and had a doctor’s letter, which also explained that the medication must not be x rayed. He interrupted me: “oh, just leave it in your bag”. I’m sure they’d have been thrilled with the resultant security incident! I declared my medication, and tried to explain why it wasn’t in usual needles, and that it must not be x rayed, but felt rushed and hassled by the security staff.
The assistance person escorted me through the metal detector, where my boots set it off, I had told them they would. I was asked to remove my boots, and they were put through the scanner, but instead of using the hand held metal detector next, the woman proceeded to give me a VERY thorough pat down search, including feeling inside the waist band of my trousers and feeling the soles of my feet, before finally scanning me with the handheld wand detector. I’m unsure whether this was because I’d had to take through something they couldn’t x ray (I’m told they swabbed my medication case), but I was unprepared for that, it felt invasive and embarrassing and frankly, I felt like a criminal!
Our journey to the gate continued, with the assistance person now asking personal questions about “what was wrong with my eyes”, as well as wanting to know what my medication was for. I found this invasive, it’s frankly none of his business.
By the time he left us at the gate, I was near to tears and burst into tears once he’d left, my companion commented “you’ve got your tweeting @everydayableism face on!” The whole experience left me shaken.
When the person arrived to get myself and two wheelchair users onto the plane, she didn’t explain that they had decided I should use the ambulift equipment with the wheelchair users, but this was fine with me, I have to take the steps up to a plane pretty slowly, and can hold up others in the process, and now I have pain and fatigue to consider as well. However, as she escorted us to the lift, she declared several times “mind the wheelchairs!” to passengers coming the other way. I’m no expert, but I would have thought “wheelchair users” to be a more appropriate term?
Once on board, we found our seats. A flight attendant came over to show me and allow me to handle a life jacket and oxygen mask. I was impressed by this, and it would have been invaluable, had I needed to use either. As she left, she joked “ooh special treatment, eh? VIP!!” like getting to handle a life jacket was some sort of exclusive perk! This level of ableism would normally pass me by, but was just one more thing in a long list that day. It wasn’t embarrassing enough that the man in the seat next to me had had to stand awkwardly in the aisle while she went through it.
After we landed at Rhodes Airport, we were directed to the Ambulift again. If you don’t know (and I didn’t, before now), it’s a kind of cherry picker thing, you step into an enclosed box from the aircraft door, which both lowers, and moves you to where you need to be. You then exit out of the other side, onto a ramp. What I didn’t know was that this ramp was still 5-6 feet off the ground, and still needed to be lowered. Unlike the equipment at the UK end, this one had no barrier, just a small lip along the edge to stop wheelchairs rolling off. The staff member didn’t warn me, and I would have merrily walked off a 6 foot drop, had my companion not grabbed my arm!
The holiday itself was mostly pleasant. We had secured a last minute deal at the Mitsis Rodos Maris. I’d contacted them prior to travelling, to arrange access to a fridge (in the room), a freezer (to freeze blocks for the return journey), and to keep the room until we left the hotel at 7pm on the date of departure, so I could rest before the journey home, and to keep my medication refrigerated. They initially didn’t reply, but after some prodding, the manager of the hotel was helpful. They assured me all of this would be fine, that we would continue to have access to the restaurants and bars until we left, and even said they would open the buffet restaurant earlier so we could eat before we left the hotel. I hadn’t asked for this, but given my metabolic problem, it would have been very helpful, had it happened.
Sadly, when I spoke to reception the day before we left, as the manager had asked me to “reconfirm” the late check out, I was told there was no guarantee we could keep the room. When I explained I had an email from the manager, I was interrupted with “it’s not about an email, it not guaranteed. We will request it, but it’s not guaranteed!”. I went back at 9am the following day as instructed, only to be told that we could not keep the room. When I explained, again, that this was for medical reasons, I was quizzed as to what my illnesses were, by two reception staff, in public, in the busy foyer of the hotel (good luck understanding what I just said, given the endocrinology registrars don’t seem to understand it fully). They finally said we could keep the room til 4pm only, and that the would have to refrigerate my medication for me from 4pm.
I wasn’t happy, but I didn’t seem to have much choice, so I took my medication down to reception at the appointed time, explaining carefully that it must remain “this way up”. When I came to get it back 15 minutes before we left, it had clearly been stored lying down, risking damage to the expensive machine that delivers the medication.
It took them over 15 minutes to retrieve my freezer packs, by which time our transfer coach was waiting, and my medication was nearing its limit of time it can be out of a fridge. When I examined the freezer packs, which had been taped together, only one was frozen, the other was only chilled. This suggests a major problem with their freezer, which is presumably used to store food, and frankly, probably explained why I’d been ill twice during our stay. I didn’t feel confident that the medication had remained cool enough during the journey home, so missed my dose that evening and threw away the remaining medication. We had multiple other problems with the hotel, but the others aren’t disability related, so I won’t relay them here. Safe to say, I won’t be recommending Mitsis group to anyone, ever.
On the return journey, I again had to explain my assistance needs. Assistance was only provided with boarding the aircraft, nothing else was offered. Security at Rhodes were more friendly, and despite the language barrier, I felt less hassled than on the outward journey. I was again patted down, but nowhere near as thoroughly.
The easyjet person at the gate decided it would be better to place me in the Ambulift again (no barrier again). Once we were on board, no member of the cabin crew gave me any safety information or offered any assistance. As we made to get off, one of the cabin crew said “the ambulift guy says he’ll give you a lift, so you don’t have to walk! Nice of him, eh?!”.
Oh the perks of travelling while disabled!