A wheelchair user was stranded on a plane for 95 minutes after airport staff failed to come and assist her off the flight.
Victoria Brignell, 45, landed at Gatwick airport on her British Airways flight from Malta on June 4. Being paralyzed from the neck down, Brignell uses a wheelchair and was aware there would be a short wait to get off the flight.
However, the staff at Gatwick airport never arrived to get her off the plane.
Brignell explained to Insider that when a plane lands, she needs to be lifted from her plane seat into an aisle chair, a specialist wheelchair used to transport wheelchair users to the door of the plane and then transferred into their wheelchairs.
“When I landed at Gatwick, the crew told me that it would take 50 minutes for staff to come to get off the plane. Later, I was then told it would be another half an hour on top.
“The airline staff were wonderful. They kept asking me if I was okay, they were offering me drinks, and they wouldn’t stop apologizing even though it wasn’t their fault,” Brignell told Insider.
In the “frustrating” 95 minutes, Brignell was stuck in an uncomfortable position propped up by cushions to support her body and without a bathroom to use, as commercial airlines do not have accessible toilets.
Eventually, Brignell and the British Airways staff gave up waiting, and the crew helped her off the plane.
“As I was moving away from the plane, I saw all these poor passengers waiting at the departure gate who were waiting for their flight for an hour and a half because I was stuck on the plane.”
“If you improve services for disabled people, you improve them for everybody, and you can see that here by the next flight being delayed by an hour and a half.”
Brignell was accompanied on the flight with her carers and friend, Kevin Bonavia, who said, “leaving disabled passengers stranded is shameful. I was shocked when the pilot first told us that Victoria would have to wait at least 50 minutes for assistance. The excuse given of staff shortages was unacceptable, and backup plans should have been in place.”
Gatwick Airport has since apologized for the incident. A spokesperson told Insider: “The treatment received at the airport was unacceptable. Gatwick’s Chief Executive and Chief Operating Officer have both spoken to and offered their sincere apologies to Victoria.”
The airport told Victoria that subcontractor Wilson James managed the staff who failed to assist her.
They told Insider: “We are deeply disappointed to have delivered a poor service on this occasion. While the aviation sector, in particular, is struggling with well-documented pressures, Ms. Brignell’s experience is unacceptable and falls far below our values and aims as a service provider; the Wilson James team extends our sincere apologies to her. Wilson James and the airport are investigating the incident as a matter of priority.”
Not an isolated incident
Brignell said that this was only the second flight she’d ever been on and had been put off by flying due to “horror stories” from other wheelchair users.
“I want to stress that this isn’t an isolated incident,” Brignell said.
She recalled the recently reported case of Daryl Tavernor, a wheelchair user who was left on a flight for two hours at Manchester airport and eventually had to call the police in order to be assisted out of the plane.
Brignell had received support from House of Lords peer Lady Tanni Grey-Thompson, who told Good Morning Britain that she was recently forced to crawl off a plane when she was not assisted in disembarking.
'Very frustrating, it's demeaning.'— Good Morning Britain (@GMB) June 7, 2022
Wheelchair user Victoria Brignell was left stranded on an aeroplane at Gatwick for an hour and 35 minutes after flying back from her holiday. The Gatwick assistance staff never showed up and in the end the airline crew helped to carry her. pic.twitter.com/fhlpEuA707
Brignell is now calling for substantial changes to the airline industry to support disabled passengers.
“In the long term, we need to look towards having airplanes redesigned, so we can travel in our wheelchairs.
“That will avoid me needing staff to come and help me off the plane, it will make the journey much more comfortable for me, and thirdly it will avoid the risk of my wheelchair going missing or being broken.”
I can travel in my wheelchair on a bus, on a train, and in a taxi. In this day and age, I should be able to fly in my wheelchair, too,” Brignell told Insider.
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