Voices: There’s one reason a wheelchair user was forced to crawl off an airplane

·3-min read
Adrian Keogh had to shuffle down steps, which he said was ‘destroying’ (Adrian Keogh)
Adrian Keogh had to shuffle down steps, which he said was ‘destroying’ (Adrian Keogh)

Imagine if... passengers were held aboard a plane at an airport because they were bound by restraints which prohibited the use of their legs.

Imagine if, upon landing, they were told they would have to wait for more than an hour for those restraints to be removed. Imagine if they were held back, while disabled passengers (who weren’t restrained) exited the plane freely. Imagine the MPs who might demand an investigation. Imagine the outcry.

Imagine if this (admittedly unlikely) scenario were to occur more than once. If planes full of able-bodied passengers got stranded every few weeks – and the airline or the airport trotted out excuses, together with apologies of dubious sincerity, while blaming each other and anyone else they could think of.

Well, this is the (frankly scandalous) everyday reality faced by the disabled traveller. The latest to suffer was Adrian Keogh, who was left “humiliated” after he was forced to crawl from a Ryanair flight into Landvetter Airport in Sweden.

The 37-year-old, from Wicklow in Ireland, descended the stairs in a seated position, while his brother waited with his wheelchair below. He described his treatment as “unacceptable”.

One has to credit his diplomacy there. I would have been inclined to use a four letter word beginning with “f” and ending in “ing” before the word “outrageous”, were I put in the same position (which is entirely possible, given that I also use a wheelchair). Keogh, who had booked assistance to get off the plane in advance, also said he hoped it would never happen again. I wish I could be confident that it wouldn’t.

For despite the apologies that were issued, and Ryanair’s insistence that it is working with the airport (whose responsibility it was to get Keogh off the plan) to ensure that it won’t happen again, this is far from the first such incidence of a disabled passenger being left stranded on an aircraft.

The BBC’s Frank Gardner seems to tweet about these incidents every few months. He is usually remarkably good humoured about them – I suppose he has to be. He has a jet-setting job and so it’s either that, or self-combust with fury. Or, of course, stop flying. Which is my solution. Yet I admit it is not a good one, because the fewer disabled people who fly, the easier it is for airports and airlines to get away with such dismal behaviour – that at times amounts to naked ableism.

In Keogh’s case, Landvetter Airport apologised for the delay in assistance and said delays occurred due to another medical emergency. In my opinion, that’s no excuse. Medical emergencies happen. Disabled people fly on planes. It is your responsibility to deal with that.

Here’s what the airport’s response should have been: “We messed this up. While we were busy that should not be read as an excuse and we do not accept it as an excuse. We got it wrong. We are really sorry to Mr Keogh. This should not have happened. We have launched an immediate review of our procedures. It will not happen again.”

Why is more preventative action not being taken when these stories keeping emerging at a time when people are so very keen to bang on about how inclusive they are and how they love diversity? There’s that word, “ableism” again...