Disabled entrepreneur Athena Stevens accuses British Airways and London City Airport of discrimination and neglect after being taken off a plane and having her wheelchair damaged.
Last October 19th Athena was scheduled to catch a British Airways flight from London City Airport to Glasgow to attend meetings at the University of Glasgow.
“I bought tickets for myself and my personal assistant on October 16th,” Athena recalls. “On that day, I also called British Airways and told them that I would be traveling in an electric wheelchair, gave them information about the batteries and the chair’s dimensions.”
Upon checking in for her flight, Athena was told information on weight and dimensions of the wheelchair were on file.
Things took a turn for the worse after the woman was taken on-board. “By the time I was loaded onto the plane the pilot had announced that the flight was delayed because they were unable to load a wheelchair”, Athena says. “Half hour later, a member of the ground crew and informed me that they were unable to fit my wheelchair onto the plane!”
An investigation by London City Airport into Athena’s complaint found that the British Airways dispatcher asked airport PRM staff to get the disabled woman off the plane when they realised the wheelchair could not be loaded in the cargo hold.
But the worst was yet to come. “My PA watched as ramp and PRM staff picked up my wheelchair by the armrests, which is an inappropriate way to pick up a wheelchair. As a result, both armrests are now broken.”
After close inspection, Athena also noticed that the cup holder, headrest, and outer casing has been severely damaged, and the chair’s software tampered with.
Three months from the incident Athena is still waiting for someone to take action and repair her chair. As to January 5th, 2016, she still had not received a refund of her ticket from British Airways.
“We are working with the customer and London City Airport to resolve the issue,” A spokesperson for British Airways told Reduced Mobility Rights. “However, as the matter is now in the hands of lawyers it would be inappropriate for us to comment further at this stage.”
The airline did not explain why the passenger was not rerouted, offered compensation, and is still waiting for a refund of her ticket.
A London City Airport spokesperson said: "The airport is working with the passenger and British Airways to resolve this matter," A London City Airport spokesperson said. "The situation is being dealt with by lawyers and we are therefore unable to provide further comment."
The airport did not explain why Athena was not offered a temporary replacement at the time of the incident.
Reduced Mobility Rights investigation into the incident has found that British Airways failed twice to spot the problem with the wheelchair dimensions: the first time when the passenger booked assistance and the second at check-in. Had the airline noticed the issue in time they should have informed the passenger and re-route her on a flight departing from Heathrow airport.
“After reading correspondence between Athena Stevens and the parties involved I have come to the conclusion that the sole focus of the airport and the airline is to mitigate liability rather than addressing the person’s needs,” Reduced Mobility Rights director Roberto Castiglioni said. “The law protecting the right of access to air travel states British Airways should have rerouted Athena and offered her compensation for being taken off her original flight; London City airport should have given her a temporary replacement wheelchair and arrange for repairs of the damaged EMA. It is simply unacceptable neither has done what the law says.”
Last August another disabled passenger was removed from a British Airways flight. Luke Kenshole, who has cerebral palsy, was on a flight from London Heathrow to Philadelphia when, after sitting down on the plane, cabin crew told him he was not allowed to fly out and had him removed from the flight. The airline has since apologised for the incident.
“British Airways and London City airport clearly have little regard for the safety and well-being of their most vulnerable passengers,” Athena Stevens told Reduced Mobility Rights. “I have a right to be mobile and a right to be safe. These two parties have violated these rights.”