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'No Frills' is no excuse

I was really glad to see that Ryanair are finally being taken to court over their blatant discrimination against people who require wheelchair assistance.

Some of my more recent readers probably won't realise, but I have a genetic condition which means that I have periods where I have severe joint problems and need to rely on crutches, or even a wheelchair. In fact, the whole reason I started writing a blog in the first place was to provide an outlet for some of the frustration I was feeling during one of these periods.

As a bit of background, for most of 2000 I was in a wheelchair. I could barely walk the length of myself unaided and couldn't walk much further even with the aid of crutches. Towards the end of 2000 and in early 2001 I'd managed to get myself back to the point where I could walk for short distances using crutches, and only needed to use the wheelchair for longer distances or when I was tired.

In April 2001 I made my first trip to London to see D, who had moved down the December before. To save money, I flew Ryanair and felt hugely positive that I'd managed to make the trip without needing to bring my wheelchair with me.

Well, almost.

On the way back to Stansted Airport my legs just gave out on me. I was incredibly tired and could barely stay upright on my crutches, especially with the added hindrence of my small weekend suitcase.

When I got to Stansted Airport after a massive cock-up in the trains, they wouldn't let me check in for my flight, and instead bumped me onto the next one and made me pay £30 for the privilege. I was a bit panicked because I was supposed to be going into the office in the afternoon and as a result of this delay knew I wouldn't make it. So I phoned my boss, apologised and explained and that was that.

When I was allowed to check in to the flight I'd been bumped to, I asked about wheelchair assistance, because by this point my legs were shaking so badly and I was in so much pain I was scared I was going to pass out right there at the check-in desk. I was directed to another area of the airport to go and request wheelchair assistance, which I managed to do.

I got to the wheelchair assistance desk and almost collapsed onto it in relief. I asked if I could have wheelchair assistance as I just couldn't make it as far as the plane. They said certainly and asked to see my boarding card, which I handed over.

It was about then that my day got much worse. They took a look at it and said, "oh, you're a Ryanair passenger, that will be £13.75". I nearly fell over in shock. Not only had I never been charged for wheelchair assistance in an airport before, but at no point in my dealings with Ryanair had it been mentioned that there would be a charge.

It took every ounce of willpower I had not to burst into tears right there and then. I think they knew something was wrong though, because they asked me if I was ok. I said I was fine, asked for my boarding card back and began to make my way back to the Ryanair Customer Service Desk to ask what the hell was going on. When I made it to the top of the queue, the girl I spoke to was quite rude and abrupt and dismissed me by handing me a scrap of paper with the customer complaints contact details on it.

Apoplectic with rage and in considerable pain, I made my way to the nearest chairs and phoned my mum, because I quite honestly didn't know what else to do. I wasn't sure that I had enough money in my account to cover the extra charge on top of the £30 I'd already paid to get on the flight because I'd been in London at the weekend, and I knew I wouldn't be able to make it to the plane.

So I sat there, in the middle of Stansted Airport, bawling my eyes out while on the phone to my mum, and listened while she boiled with rage too. I gave her the Ryanair details so that she could phone the complaints department, because my phone, a pay-as-you-go job, was running out of credit and the top-up system at Orange was unavailable, so I couldn't put any more on.

She phoned me back about ten minutes later, even angrier than she had been. She'd been utterly stonewalled by the Ryanair people, who seemed to think that an unexpected charge of £13.75 for wheelchair assistance was utterly reasonable, and not the blatant extortion and discrimination that it actually was.

In the end, my mum phoned British Airports Authority (BAA) who run and manage Stansted Airport (as well as Heathrow, Gatwick, Glasgow and Edinburgh) and spoke to their Duty Manager, who was absolutely brilliant, and agreed to provide wheelchair assistance for me, free of charge, and even came down personally, with his Deputy and found me in the check-in area and ushered me through security and into the departure lounge and bought me a Diet Coke.

When it came time to get to the plane, his staff turned up again to get me onto the flight and make sure I was ok.

I can't praise them highly enough for what they did for me. They really went above and beyond the call of duty.

Ryanair however, are the biggest bunch of scumbags going.

I wrote a letter of complaint to their Head Office when I got back to Scotland, and they completely ignored both it, and the follow up letter I sent afterwards. I then got caught up with other family issues and didn't have the energy to pursue it any further, which is why I'm very glad to see that someone's had the backbone and energy to stand up to them and take them to court.

To adopt a position where wheelchair assistance is deemed a "frill", such as providing a manky sandwich is laughable, and to back that up by bleating "but we provide assistance at 80 out of 86 airports" is just frankly NOT GOOD ENOUGH.

I find it extremely difficult to believe that the costs of providing wheelchair assistance at 6 more airports would make a substantial dent in their profits, and just amounts to a "not my problem, guv" attitude.

I am quite certain that should anyone in the Ryanair board, or management team, or a member of their family, for that matter, at any point require wheelchair assistance, they would expect that this assistance is provided free of cost and without extortion.

It's bad enough to have to be in the position where you have to admit that you're dependent on that sort of help, without being forced to pay the charge without warning, when you're extremely vulnerable.

Which doesn't even begin to cover the fact that it's AGAINST THE LAW.

I really hope this case doesn't get lost in legal wrangling, because there's a real need for people to know that there are consequences for this kind of behaviour. Discrimination happens, everyone realises this, and despite all best efforts it will probably continue to happen - even accidentally, but really, this isn't accidental, this is pre-meditated and wrong, and needs to stop.

... and beyond all that, I hope Ryanair get what's coming to them. Corporate embarrassment, bad PR, and a hefty fine, with an order to change their policy for the remaining six airports. A public apology would be nice too, but I'm not holding my breath.

December 3, 2003 in Best of, Current Affairs | Permalink


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What a horribe story. I have no choice but to fly with Ryanair as they're the only company who fly direct to the UK from Ancona (I work in Italy).

A few months ago I was coming out here from Stansted and there was a couple waiting to board and the woman was in a wheelchair. To get to the plane there was an escalator down one level, then two sets of stairs to reach the tarmac. The husband asked if there was a lift so the Ryanair staff fannied around for a bit (long enough for them to start letting other passengers on) before telling him that he'd have to manage with the stairs.

The poor bloke managed the escalator but the stairs were too much for him. He had to carry his wife down the stairs while me and some other passengers brought the wheelchair and their hand luggage. No assistance was forthcoming at all from any of the Ryanair or airport staff. I was appalled but now I know they obviously hadn't paid their thirteen quid!

Posted by: Tompy | Dec 3, 2003 2:59:33 PM

You've got me all riled up too! Unbelievable.

What an awful time, and what a horrible company. What I don't get is how the most obnoxious, uncaring people seem to end up working in customer facing roles... just don't get it.

Posted by: Gordon | Dec 3, 2003 4:24:39 PM

I used to fly Ryanair all the time (i live in London and regularly visit my family back home in Cork). Then - a couple of years back - i found myself delayed at the departure gate in Stansted for 12 hours.

The delay itself had nowt to do with Ryanair but, whilst the other airlines; including the other budget ones; took care of their passengers... providing sandwiches, water and - most importantly - regular information updates; the Ryanair staff just disappeared. I've spent longer at airports (a 36 hour stint in an un-air-conditioned area of Athens airport springs immediately and soul-destroyingly to mind), but never have the airline staff taken a deliberate decision to hide from myself and the other passengers.

By hour ten i was giving serious consideration to fermenting a riot. *Anything* to get Ryanair to notice us. A voice kept whispering to me: "Jim, face it; the only way you're leaving this terminal building is in a police-car... or an ambulance".

Thankfully it didn't come to that. And now when i fly home, i use Aer Lingus. Slightly more expensive... but i consider it to be a sanity-insurance surcharge.

Aaaanyways... i'm not sure if you were inviting a general moan about Ryanair or not. But you got one. I used to think they were merely disastrously incompetent when it came to customer service, but your story seems to illustrate a bizarre corporate vindictiveness and arrogance that i hope blows up in their face during this court-case.

Ryanair? Boo hiss!

Posted by: jim | Dec 4, 2003 12:54:40 AM

Heh. In the US, they'd have the federal government on their ass, not just the passengers.


I hope they get their asses handed to them in court.

You write wonderfully movingly about that occaision - enough so that a non-disabled person understands your plight. Ever thought about writing more about it as an explanatory sort of thing? Not everyone is empathetic enough to understand such things right off.

Posted by: Courtney | Dec 4, 2003 2:09:56 AM

I am quite shocked by this. A good thing they're being taken to court and I think I may persuade everyone I know who uses them to boycott them as I shall start doing.

Posted by: Dragon | Dec 4, 2003 9:43:24 AM

Tompy - I'm quite surprised by your story, as Ryanair's defence is that they provide wheelchair assistance free of charge to those with their own wheelchair, and merely pass the costs for those who require assistance but don't have their own chair along.

Your story illustrates this is not the case, and only serves to illustrate that they're quite simply not interested in helping disabled passengers, or their carers.

The amount of unnecessary stress they cause is quite apalling.

Argh. Other passengers shouldn't need to help out because the airline staff are inept/don't care/can't be bothered, but I'm really glad they do.

Posted by: pix | Dec 4, 2003 9:46:59 AM

I know that Ryanair are a budget airline, and you pretty much get what you pay for in terms of service, but they're not the only budget airline, and as far as I can tell, and from personal experience, none of the other airlines quite reach the depths that Ryanair seem to have made their market position.

I certainly made up my mind after that incident that I would never use Ryanair again, even if it meant I had to get the train/bus/swim/walk/crawl on my hands and knees to get where I needed to go.

Posted by: pix | Dec 4, 2003 9:50:01 AM

I love the way people like you moan and its all in the terms and conditions!

Posted by: Hannah | Jun 23, 2007 12:54:26 AM

DONT FLY WITH THEM THEN! LESS PEOPLE TO CHECK IN! You and anyone else complains wont make a difference!! Millions of people fly with them and they dont care! I work for them and they are one of the best airlines! The customer is never right for once and its still the best airline! People like you do not have a leg to stand on when moaning about the airline! Simply dont use them!

Posted by: Hannah | Jul 17, 2007 10:28:20 PM

After what I have read here and elsewhere, Hannah, I conclude that your 'one of the best airlines' is a pile of trash. No airline has a right to discriminate against the disabled or against anybody else, not even this cattle transport company. On another site I read how they made a 14-year old boy STAND on a broken leg on a flight from Italy to Britain. Or how they ripped off two German school classes a few years ago when Ryanair cancelled all return tickets to Rome and then had the cheek to demand 120 Euros per person extra if they still wanted to fly three weeks later. That is Ryanair, indeed. I would never, ever fly with this outfit. Rather fly Aer Lingus, a bit more expensive but much better. One day Ryanair will reap what they sow.

Posted by: Han Maenen | Oct 28, 2007 3:04:32 PM

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