Humans have always looked for ways to exert power and control over other humans, perhaps the most logical explanation for why pilots seem to keep embarrassing disabled people.
Geraldine Freeman recently flew to Tenerife in the Canary Islands with Jet2. She had informed Jet2 of her mobility difficulties in advance, but on arrival at the airport, she was informed that her wheelchair needed to be partially dismantled. This was something she said she had never experienced before.
Geraldine spotted her electric wheelchair on the tarmac after a delayed flight and then heard the captain announce to passengers that loading the electric wheelchair was the cause of the delay.
To make matters worse, once she was seated a crew member made the comment about not being able to reach her in an emergency. Geraldine told BBC Wiltshire News her journey was "embarrassing, uncomfortable, stressful and humiliating" because of the "very undignified way" she was treated.
A Jet2 spokesperson told BBC Wiltshire News: “We take matters such as this extremely seriously and we have investigated it as a matter of absolute urgency.
“Despite our teams doing everything they could to assist Ms. Freeman when she traveled, the reason for the delay was because the wheelchair was too large to fit into the aircraft hold without the headrest being folded first.
“We acknowledge that our Special Assistance team should have more accurately noted the dimensions of the wheelchair when they spoke to Ms. Freeman initially and that this would also have prevented any such delay. We are ensuring that additional training takes place to ensure that this does not happen again.”
Experienced travelers are aware that announcements of flight delays due to the needs of passengers with disabilities is not uncommon. Just last month I boarded a flight that was delayed because of disabled passengers. As soon as boarding was complete the captain announced that assistance was late to help them off the previous flight. To my surprise, he repeated the announcement twice.
A few days after my flight, I told the Accessibility Manager of the airline about what happened. He candidly said that pilots have a duty to inform passengers about the reasons for delays. I'm not arguing against being transparent as all customers are equally important, but why is it necessary to single out the passengers deplaning late because of their disability? Just say a group of customers were late off the incoming flight, still transparent enough.
Regrettably, the ground crew is also prone to make demeaning announcements when boarding is delayed.
Truth is, there are no valid excuses to embarrass someone because of their disabilities. Going forward, I would like to encourage pilots and flight attendants to keep Geraldine Freeman in mind during public announcements. Words are powerful and as a customer, words will either humiliate you or make you feel supported.