British Airways or London City airport have yet to repair Athena Stevens’ wheelchair one or both damaged eight months ago.
Eight months after the incident Athena is out of thousands of pounds to keep going about her life, while the airline and the airport took shelter behind their legal teams.
"On October 19, 2015 I was due to take a British Airways flight from London City Airport. My wheelchair was returned to me it was damaged to the point of being unsafe to drive. To date neither party have provided me with even a temporary replacement wheelchair, choosing instead to point fingers and call in all sorts of experts to pass emails back and forth rather than actually fixing the problem," Athena says in her latest blog. "Growing up with a disability you get used to the stall tactics people use to avoid progress and getting you what you need. I call these tactics ‘games’ because the people who use them aren’t interested in progress, or doing what’s right, they simply want the issue (and you with it) to go away. To them it’s not an issue of human rights, or getting you what you need, it’s about winning."
On Monday Lord Chris Holmes, Disability Commissioner of the Equality and Human Rights Commission and former Director of Paralympic Integration for London 2012, openly criticised British Airways and London City airport for their actions.
“Disabled people are often deterred from flying for fear of loss, damage or destruction of their mobility equipment. Athena’s story is a case in point. She has been left without a replacement chair for eight months. We’re not talking about a suitcase or a set of golf clubs - this is a person's mobility and independence,” Lord Holmes, a former Paralympic athlete himself, told The Guardian. “Considering that BA is main sponsor of Team GB, I think it’s fair to ask whether this practice would equally apply to competing athletes, and if so, whether the Paralympic team been made aware that British Airways will not cover the full cost if their equipment is damaged.”
Team GB, however, shows no concern on BA’s practices and zero support for Athena’s case. “We’re pleased that BA have made the commitment to Paralympics GB and are confident they are making great plans to ensure our Paralympic athletes are given a world class service,” The British Paralympic Association told The Guardian.
London City airport refuses to give Athena Stevens a temporary replacement alleging damages to her £25.000 Pounds IBot are merely “cosmetic”. British Airways offered to pay the maximum damage set forth by the Montreal Convention, little over £1.000.
According to legislation protecting the rights of disabled people traveling by air, airports must give passengers a temporary replacement when a wheelchair is damaged or lost.
“European regulations make it clear people with a disability or reduced mobility are legally entitled to receive special assistance both at airports and on board aircraft when travelling by air,” a CAA spokesperson told Reduced Mobility Rights. “The CAA actively promotes these rights providing clear advice on our website and via social media to ensure disabled passengers are aware of their rights.”
Last January, the complaint handling team of the UK CAA investigated Athena Stevens’ case. "All complaints we receive are thoroughly reviewed, and we will ask for information and evidence from the passenger, airline and airport, in respect of any incident,” the CAA spokesperson said. "Where we find there is a shortcoming in the service provided, we will work with the airport and or airline to make sure improvements are made."
Despite the Civil Aviation Authority’s intervention, London City airport refuses to give Athena a temporary replacement.
"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 UK Civil Aviation Authority failed me,” Athena said in a recent Vlog, expressing her frustration at the Regulator’s inability to make the airport comply with its legal obligation.
Athena’s sentiment was recently echoed in a statement issued by The Royal National Institute of Blind People. “Our main concern is around the enforcement of the current EU framework,” Samantha Fothergill, Senior legal Policy Officer at the Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB) said. “The EU rules are reasonably clear but breaches continue to occur and the CAA are either reluctant or unable, under the UK implementing legislation, to take action.”
By now, BA and City airport must have learned Athena will not go away anytime soon, not until they do the right thing. Lord Holmes’s open criticism is just another nail in the coffin the airport and the airline are making for themselves.
“Many people with special needs already have a difficult life. It’s basic human decency not to make it any harder than necessary,” I told management at the Civil Aviation Authority last January. “From my findings, it would appear both British Airways and LCY have done everything in their power to make Mrs Stevens’ life as hard as it possibly can be.”
The airline and airport must listen to Athena Stevens. She is on a mission for something greater than a broken wheelchair. She wants to jumpstart the cultural shakeup needed to move past treating people with disabilities as someone who can be bullied or deprived of dignity with impunity.
Athena is speaking on behalf of the millions who don’t want anything more than being an element of the human landscape, with the same right to dignity and access everybody else enjoys.
Everyone involved better listen to her because, I for one, would not be surprised to see her knocking on Number 10 next.