Hello again, Samantha here, this time, with a tale of travelling travesty.
As regular readers will know, I’m visually impaired; I’m registered blind, but have a small amount of functional vision in one eye. Unfortunately, over the last couple of years, I’ve developed some other long term health problems, one of which is Sleep Apnea, another is an unusual endocrine/metabolic condition which caused fatigue and pain, amongst other things. This also means I now have additional medication and medical equipment.
I’ve travelled by air numerous times, only once unaccompanied (Kudos to BMI, who were nothing short of fantastic on that ocassion). As advised, I always inform the airline I’m using of my disability, and book any assistance I need. This year, though, was the first time travelling with my new conditions and associated baggage/drama!
My new medication is a liquid that has to be kept refrigerated, but must not be frozen. It would normally come in a syringe/pen type device, but, as I can’t see well enough to use those, I have to use an electronic device to measure the medication and deliver the injections for me. Because I just loooove to be awkward, right? I also use a CPAP machine to keep my airways open at night, but decided to forego bringing it with me this time, to save difficulty.
This year, I’d booked a holiday with a broker, and was flying with EasyJet. After navigating their help pages, where there is lots of information on the sorts of assistance they can offer and arrange, I tried to contact them. This was a little difficult, as I was instructed to log in with the booking reference given when I booked, to contact them about assistance. Whenever I did this, the site navigated away from the relevant page, and when I got back to where I needed, I was told to log in again. I couldn’t locate an email address, either for easyjet in general, or for their assistance team, so I ended using their Contact Us page, selecting assistance as the reason for the contact. (Looking at their website today, it seems this has changed, and there is a clear email link for their assistance team now). After some battling with it losing my text, restricting the number of characters I could put in, etc, it confirmed it had contacted them successfully on 11th September. After hearing nothing for a week, a bit of googling located an email address and I emailed them once again on 19th September, with detailed information about what assistance would be helpful, including explaining that I needed to travel with refrigerated medication, and asking if they could provide ice, or give me access to a fridge, or freezer (for ice packs). They replied on September 22nd, with a brief email saying assistance had been booked, and ignoring the questions regarding medication. I replied on the same day, asking them to address the query about medication.
Despite their information on their website, saying they could provide assistance from the point of arrival at the airport, and my stating that I would struggle with luggage due to fatigue, they told me assistance would be provided “from the check in desk”; I also emailed querying this on the 22nd. On the 23rd, they replied “Please be informed that in all airports you should be able to find many “BLUE CALL POINTS”, a very huge panels clearly marked with a big telephones. You do not have to dial any number, simply push the button based in the middle of the telephone and one of the assistance providers will pick up and will come and take you. These panels are situated in the airport, in front of the entrance of the airport, on the taxi rang and on the car park.”. Remember this, it’ll be important later. No prizes for guessing in what way.
Also on the 23rd, they replied to my medication query: “I would like to inform you that we do not have a freezer or a fridge on board. You can bring some kind of a fridge but there is no possibility to plug it in on board. Also we do not allow to bring ice on board. Only dry ice can be accepted.”
Ok, well I’ll ignore the fact that since they have no refrigeration facilies, their drinks must be served room temperature. Maybe they just don’t want to take responsibility for medication- totally understandable, which is why I’d asked if they could freeze a cool pack, or provide ice. Apparently not. Not that they answered that bit of my query.
Um, also, I’m arriving by bus, how exactly do I bring a fridge? And what use would it be without a power supply? And dry ice??!! Seriously? How does one get or transport dry ice?? And how do I get dry ice on a Greek island, to travel home?? Enquiring minds want to know- has no one ever travelled with refrigerated medication before?
When I was prescribed the medication, the hospital provided me with a cooler pack good for 6.5 hours. Now, given I don’t drive, this is unlikely to cover a lot of journeys in the UK, let alone foreign travel, so I bought this product. It’s specifically designed for medication, and claims to cool for 12-16 hours, using a rigid plastic cooler block with liquid inside, that freezes. On the 23rd, I replied to EasyJet, providing a link to this product, explaining what it was, and how it worked, and asking them to tell me if it was acceptable.
Their reply, later that same day: “Please be informed that as we do not have any fridge on board and you need to have your medications refridgered you need to take with you dry ice because only this kind of ice is permitted on board.” I’d assume this was just copied and pasted, but the wording is slightly different. I’m getting annoyed by this point.
By this time, I had found this government website, which stated you could bring cooling gel packs for medical purposes, with permission from the airline/airport. But of course, my airline weren’t helping, and it didn’t mention liquid cooling packs. I emailed Liverpool Airport, through their Contact Us page. They never replied. I’d wanted to communicate by email, so I had proof of what had been agreed, but, given no one was responding, I also phoned, and was put through to the security desk. I was told it would “probably be all right”, but they really didn’t sound sure.
I once again emailed EasyJet, asking for a yes or no answer on whether the product I had for transporting my medication was acceptable, quoting the government website above, stating that I was unhappy that I had emailed six times so far without an answer, and that if I wasn’t given a clear answer, I would be lodging a formal complaint. (Most companies at this point would try to make things right, and give you informaiton on how to complain. Not EasyJet). As an afterthought, I again sent the link to the product, I also said I assumed they didn’t mean actual dry ice, as I couldn’t imagine bringing a lump of frozen carbon dioxide through security and onto a plane!
Their reply came two days later, on the 25th. Yep, you’ve guessed it, boys and girls: “I would like to inform you that we do not have a freezer or a fridge on board. We allow all passegers to travel with some kind of fridge but there is no possibility to plug it in on board. Also we do not allow to bring ice on board. Due to security reason, only dry ice can be accepted.” and another reply “Please be informed that as we do not have any fridge on board and you need to have your medications refridgered you need to take with you dry ice because only this kind of ice is permitted on board.”
I sent a stroppy reply, asking them if all their drinks would be warm and without ice, and demanding a straight answer, on the 25th. They never replied.
As the government website had mentioned gel cooler packs but not liquid ones, I began researching other options. I came across this product, which, while expensive, gives 24 hours’ cooling for medication, and this particular Amazon seller, Syringa UK Limited, offered express shipping. Since EasyJet wouldn’t give me an answer, and I didn’t want to risk being without my medication if the liquid packs were confiscated, I ordered this after the close of business on the 25th, and it arrived first thing on the 27th, giving me enough time to thoroughly freeze the packs. They were also great at dealing with queries, providing a delivery time and being nice when I was in a blind panic* (*it’s ok, I’m allowed to say that).
At this point, as I tend to do, I took to twitter and began ranting. Lots of lovely people tried to help, including the community @EverydayAbleism, @RicaUK, who called in contacts, and the wonderful @trabasack, who went above and beyond with tweeting, RTing, and generally mobilising the cavalry to try to solve the problem at short notice. (Duncan, of @trabasack, has a great website providing gadgets and inclusive products at http://www.equ4l.com/)
What struck me particularly was the variety of responses: surely this is something that there should be a policy about? So here are some of the tweets, some helpful, some amusing, that I got in response…
@An__Astronaut not sure what else to see suggest. There probably are medical exemptions. @An__Astronaut but if the medication requires cooling… no Geoff, don’t fall into the trap of applying logic to security procedures! @cyrilthefish The ice might explode! *terrorists!¬* *panicky flailing* 😉 @sweet_exile where on earth are you supposed to get dry ice for a return journey? @LemLems Well you won’t have your meds but at least you an stage an awesome rock show mid-flight 🙂 @LemLems I can imagine! Do they not come under British law for accessibility? It just seems unfathomable that they don’t have a solution @la_jellybean they know that dry ice isn’t actually dry, right? That it’s a frozen liquid, just like water ice is? @LemLems @la_jellybean Are you applying logic again? *suspicious look* @runalongwomble the CAA also advice to speak to airports around security tests in advance @LemLems Sounds like airport & airline rules don’t match. Guess they don’t speak to each other?
@la_jellybean https://www.gov.uk/hand-luggage-restrictions/essential-medicines-and-medical-equipment … Legally you can take both meds and cooling packs, but airline/port have to approve. FFS Govt. @la_jellybean What’s the point of giving legal guidelines and then saying “Meh, not our problem”? No, it’s EXACTLY your problem. @la_jellybean Yeah, the extortionately priced sandwiches they sell are kept at room temperature. *gives easyjet massive side-eye* @EverydayAbleism Any ppl travelled w meds needing refrigeration & able to advise? Will I be allowed to take freezer blocks through security?
@chronicallycool I know you can bring ice packs on planes in canada!
@Loopyscot Unfortunately you can’t take freezer blocks. I was told to ask for ice from the cabin crew on flights.
@trabasack but they have ice for drinks?
@trabasack there is definitely ice on a plane as you get it in drinks. Shall I ask my followers? See if anyone is an airhost/ess?
@fp_em technically frozen h2o isn’t water, it is ice, so doesn’t come under the ‘liquids’ law.. If that helps @trabasack would have thought dry ice was far more unstable and liable to burn people than freezer blocks!
@fp_em sorry I didn’t mean dry ice, meant freezer blocks. Normal ice is not a liquid therefore doesn’t come under the rules @disabledmedic ask @stickmancrips I know she’s flown with her cool vest @stickmancrips I flew with 8 cooling packs. letter from GP saying necessary plus manufacturers info no probs. @stickmancrips I flew Ryan Air. I also notified the ppl I contacted for wheelchair assistance. @disabledmedic would also advise phoning the airport and asking to speak to security directly @RicaUK did the freezer blocks issue get sorted out OK? If not I have another route to help possibly @BrianMSeaman it isn’t a question I’ve been asked in over 20 years of research. Looks like @easyJet are taking it on board though?
Ok, so I’m awkward. I knew that already! 😉
@clairehaymes not easyjet but a lady behind me on monarch had hers confiscated at security due to liquid in
During the tweetathon that ensued, @trabasack got a reply from @easyjet…
@easyJet Hi, please send us a DM with your booking details and we will investigate on the possibility and let you know. CB
I contacted them via DM, and they said “Thanks for the details Samantha. Please provide us with your e-mail address and we will forward this information to the airport and ask them to confirm you may take it with you on board. Thanks, CB.” I did so immediately. “Thanks, I have sent a message to the airport about this. As soon as I hear back I will let you know. CB“.
When they hadn’t been in touch by the following day, I DMed again, since they’d been more use than emailing the assistance team. “Hi Samantha.We have been informed that you need to contact the airport to confirm that you can take those with you. From our side it is not a problem but you need to confirm if it’ll go through security.Thanks,DB.” Ah, not so helpful.
Then, when I explained I had tried, the airport hadn’t replied ” You might want to place it into hold just to be sure? Thanks,DB.”.
I also googled “easyjet dry ice”, to see if I’d missed a mention in their help pages, to find multiple reports of this incident, where EasyJet staff mistook dry ice vapour for smoke, discharging a fire extinguisher and diverting the plane. And yet, they want me to bring dry ice, in preference to freezer packs???
@RicaUK passed some info to @trabasack, who emailed it to me. It was from a contact at the Equality and Human Rights Commission (I was, and am, genuinely touched by how much trouble virtual strangers went to). They gave the number of the Civil Aviation Authority’s Dangerous Goods Office, who I then called. Who, by the silence on the phone, were mightily baffled. After going off and talking to someone, they came back, and said that it was outside their area of expertese, but that they didn’t consider either ice blocks or the medication dangerous, but I might need a letter for the medication from a medical professional. When I said I did need, and had, a letter, they said I evidently knew more about it than they did!
So, the day before my flight, I still didn’t have a clear answer, in writing, but was out of time to get one.
Next, dear reader, the actual flights…