I caught the travel bug a long time ago, nearly ten years ago now. At the age of 16, I flew to southern Africa with 23 other disabled people and the Journey of a Lifetime Trust charity, who really do deliver what their name promises. We conquered sand dunes, rode elephants, cage dived with sharks and camped under the Namibian stars – all things that, as a wheelchair user, I’d kind of accepted I might not be able to do. Boy, was I wrong. Since then, I’ve lived in the Sinai Desert with a Bedouin Tribe, snorkelled above the Great Barrier Reef and written the Lonely Planet Guide to Accessible Rio de Janeiro, ahead of the 2016 Olympic and Paralympic Games. That travel bug has certainly grabbed a hold of me, and my wheelchair as well, for that matter.
Just over two weeks ago, the plan was to jet off on a long, sangria-filled, girly weekend to Gran Canaria with, funnily enough, two friends I met all those years ago whilst trekking through the hot Namibian sands in the summer of 2008. Annie has cerebral palsy and is an exceptional youth worker in London, and Tash is a chair user like me (but a much fitter version; she was part of the GB wheelchair basketball team at London 2012). Everything was going pretty smoothly at Stansted, and we even splashed out on a cocktail each before boarding. The assistance team met us at the gate and helped us to board the flight to Las Palmas that would take a little over 4 hours. As we got to the aircraft door, Tash asked your cabin crew members if there was an in-flight chair on board so she would be able to use the bathroom during the reasonably lengthy journey. A member of your crew then told her that aisle chairs are never carried on-board Ryanair flights, shocking to say the least. When she then asked what she should do in the event of needing the bathroom whilst in the air, the member of staff told her that she should have chosen to fly with another airline… yep, you read that correctly. The best that your crew could do was to sit us at the back of the plane, so we wouldn’t have too far to crawl and bum-shuffle, should we need to relieve ourselves….
We dehydrated ourselves to the best of our ability on your flight, and fortunately did not have to crawl on the plane in order to use the facilities, but it’s an absolute travesty that we needed to take such action, and were treated with such flippancy and rudeness. We have tweeted you about this situation several times and have yet to receive a reply. If you are unable to cater for the additional requirements of disabled customers, this should be explicitly explained on your website to prevent a situation like ours. Travel should be available and accessible to all and, if I can find a way to scuba dive and camel ride with a disability, I sure as hell expect to be able to get to a sunny pool-side in Gran Canaria with more ease that I was granted when flying with you.
I sincerely hope that the abrupt answers of your staff weren’t true, and there is in fact a way to make your journeys inclusive to those who are unable to walk. If not, I’ll just have to find a way of drinking my sangria without you!