A woman with a rare form of muscular dystrophy had to be lifted and carried by her 66-year-old husband after two flights were delayed, leaving her very distressed. Suzanne Croft, 53, had to be helped out of the plane as passengers waited to board at the gate after a support team failed to show up.
The incident on the flight from London to Newcastle came after Suzanne had an almost identical experience – with 90 minute delays – earlier today on the flight from Newcastle to London. Muscular Dystrophy UK has now called on the aviation industry and government to take action to ensure people with disabilities receive the support they are legally entitled to when traveling by air.
The charity says wheelchair users are now afraid to travel. Air passengers with disabilities or reduced mobility are legally entitled to accessibility assistance when traveling by air.
Suzanne, a retired dental practice manager, flew from Newcastle Airport to Heathrow last Thursday after taking part in a life-saving clinical study at a Newcastle hospital. But when Suzanne’s BA flight landed at Heathrow, she had to be lifted and helped off the plane by her husband and the crew of the next flight after special assistance failed to arrive. Passengers on the next flight were already at their gates ready to board.
Earlier in the day, Suzanne had already experienced a delay of nearly 90 minutes to board the same flight in Newcastle, as special assistance and equipment were not available at the right time to help her board. The delay caused the flight to depart an hour late and left Suzanne very distressed.
“I felt so embarrassed and it left me quite traumatized,” Suzanne said. “The other passengers had already been on board for so long that they had been given snacks and water – and didn’t look happy.
“As a wheelchair user, it was so humiliating to be loaded onto the plane and into my seat in front of everyone. I felt so upset and guilty for being the cause of a delay. one hour on departure – plus cascading delays on subsequent flights.
Suzanne’s condition, Limb Girdle Muscular Dystrophy, causes severe muscle atrophy and weakness, so she is entirely dependent on her wheelchair – which must be checked into the plane’s cargo hold – for her mobility. .
“When the flight landed at Heathrow everyone got off, but the special assistance didn’t arrive,” Suzanne said.
“Eventually my husband, who is 66, had to lift me from the seat, helped by the new crew, and they had to place me in a folding aisle chair which had no seat belt. My husband m held my legs while a nice crew member on the next flight pushed me into the arrival lounge. That’s not the wait – I’m used to that. is indignity and humiliation.
“It’s just not good enough. I don’t want to cause any trouble for the cabin crew and the captain – they were so helpful and kind – the captain even carried our luggage to the taxi. And I know that the people in charge of special assistance are doing the best they can. There just aren’t enough special assistance personnel and equipment – that’s the problem.
“I was shocked by the recent sad incident at Gatwick – and I feel it is my duty to speak out,” she added. “There must be immediate and swift action by airports to prevent further tragedies. Apologies are not enough”.
The incident follows a series of similar cases at UK airports reported by other wheelchair users in recent weeks, including the death of a man who fell from an escalator at Gatwick Airport after waiting for a special assistance. Muscular Dystrophy UK, which funds medical research, as well as support and campaigning for people living with muscle wasting conditions, says people with disabilities are being left behind in the post-pandemic return to activity.
Robert Burley, Director of Communications, Care and Support at Muscular Dystrophy UK, said: “Air passengers with disabilities or reduced mobility are legally entitled to assistance, known as ‘special assistance’, when travel by plane – but airports have repeatedly failed to deliver on this recently and the Civil Aviation Authority must hold these companies to account.
“We are concerned that as we emerge from the pandemic, people with disabilities, including those with muscular dystrophy and muscle wasting, will continue to face barriers to resuming daily life.
“Evidence shows that the lives of people with disabilities have been hardest hit by COVID-19, and inequalities have widened*. As travel restrictions have begun to ease and the general public resumes their lives , people with disabilities are still disproportionately affected.
“It’s essential that people with disabilities get the accessibility support they need to live their lives as fully as possible, and that includes using all forms of transportation for business and pleasure.
“To do this, the government must take action to ensure that all transport is accessible to people with disabilities as a matter of urgency. The National Disability Strategy (2021), which sets out actions the government will take to improve the daily lives of all people with disabilities, included a commitment to enabling people with disabilities to travel with confidence by addressing training and support for the personal, but it does not specifically cover air travel.
Suzanne Croft said: “The way I feel right now, I never want to fly again, but the study I’m taking part in at Newcastle is so important to me and others with my condition. I feel so sad that something like flying, which should open up so many opportunities and experiences for me, has now become something I dread.
A study published last week by the Activity Alliance, a charity that champions people with disabilities in sport and activity, reveals how people with disabilities feel left out in the recovery from the pandemic.
The survey of 941 people with disabilities and 885 people without disabilities found that less than three in ten people with disabilities felt encouraged to return to activity after the pandemic; while only four in ten feel they can be as active as they want, in contrast to people without disabilities who are now more likely to say they can be as active as they want.
Muscular dystrophy United Kingdom brings together and supports people affected by over 60 rare and very rare conditions of progressive muscle wasting and wasting. Recent research has revealed that there are over 110,000 people living with muscle wasting conditions in the UK, which is more than previously thought.
Suzanne’s condition, Limb Girdle Muscular Dystrophy, type R2, affects the muscles of the shoulder and pelvic girdle. For her, it has progressed to the point where she needs help with all aspects of daily living and care, and has had to retire for medical reasons.