The brother of a stroke survivor alleges Thomas Cook airlines denied the disabled man pre-booked medical seating and assistance, wrecking his last holiday abroad.
Kevin Burns suffered a near fatal stroke in January of 2011. The stroke has left the man with severe speech impairment, paralysis to his right arm and severe reduction of movement to his right leg. Kevin is wheel chair bound, in constant pain, and requires assistance to eat and use toilet facilities.
At the beginning of the summer, Kevin's wife Elaine and his brother Adrian decided to book a holiday with Thomas Cook. "We book this break thinking it was likely to be Kevin and Elaine last holiday abroad should his condition remain the same," Adrian Burns says.
Because of the severity of Kevin's condition, preparations for the trip were meticulous. "To ensure acknowledgement of his condition, Kevin’s wife made several visits to Thomas Cook offices during the lead up to the holiday," Adrian recalls.
On 20 July Thomas Cook faxed the reservation confirmation, stating that Kevin had a medical extra leg room seat and that he needed assistance since he was unable to ascend or descend ramps (WCHS). Few days later, Elaine paid extra £20 per person to ensure the couple would be seated together.
On 8 October, Kevin went to Gatwick airport to board his flight to Punta Cana. "Problems started once we boarded the plane to find out that Kevin had a normal seat and not the medical seat as confirmed," Adrian says. "After lengthy discussions, cabin crew said that nothing could be done as able bodied passengers occupying medical seats behind bulkhead paid an extra charge for them."
Kevin experienced constant pain throughout the duration of the flight due the unsuitable seat. Another unpleasant surprise awaited the stroke survivor at destination. Despite Thomas Cook confirmation, there was no assistance available to help Kevin Burns off the aircraft.
"When we reached Punta Cana airport as Kevin had to walk down the steps from the plane onto the runway, a distance and steepness of descent he had not attempted before," the disabled man's brother recalls. Because of the ordeal, Kevin suffered the swelling of his right ankle.
Kevin's return to the UK was no better experience. The stroke survivor had once again to walk up the steps to the plane with the help of his wife and brother. Upon boarding the aircraft, Kevin Burns discovered he had once more been allocated a nonmedical seat.
"I approached the cabin crew, asking if they would ask passengers occupying extra legroom seat to move," Adrian says. "After 15/20 minutes they said they could not move the able bodied passengers in the medical seats because they had paid an extra fee for them."
"I spent the entire journey close to tears with anger and frustration at the treatment my brother Kevin received; I can honestly say that an animal transported abroad would probably be treated better," Adrian added.
According to Adrian Burns, a further two wheelchair bound passengers had received the same appalling treatment on the same flights.
European law protecting the rights of the disabled traveling by air (1107/2006) states airlines must make all reasonable efforts in arranging seating to meet the needs of disabled passengers. In addition, they must ensure airports receive notification of the needs of passengers, who must be assisted embarking and disembarking the aircraft.
When traveling with a companion, the airline must make all reasonable efforts in assigning this person a seat next to the disabled person. Finally, cabin crew must help disabled passengers moving to toilet facilities.
"The comfort and well-being of our customer is our primary focus and we always strive to ensure individual arrangements are made for customers when requested," A spokesperson for Thomas Cook told Reduced Mobility Rights on Monday. "We would therefore like to unreservedly apologise to Mr Burns and his family for his recent experience with us. We are undertaking a full and thorough review and we would like to thank Mr Burns for his patience whilst we complete this. We'd like to reassure him that we're taking all his concerns very seriously and will respond to him shortly.”
The incident report has been forwarded to the Civil Aviation Authority for their investigation and assessment.