So imagine being told you can’t fly because you wear spectacles. This would be awful, not to mention downright ridiculous and discriminatory. Well, that isn’t far from what I experienced recently with Jet2, an airline known for its controversy surrounding disabled passengers.
Last month I had a trip to a European city planned (I’m keeping it secret for now as more exciting news on this coming soon). Everything was sorted, all I needed to do was book my flights. I had a look online to find the best deals, but Jet2 were the only airline that flew to this destination on my chosen date and from my chosen airport. With no other option, I went ahead and booked a one-way flight with Jet2 as I knew I could fly back home with EasyJet (an airline I’ve flown with many times and never had a bad experience with as a wheelchair user).
Day One // Booking Our Jet2 Flights
Having flown with Jet2 a few years previously and not having the best of experiences, I reluctantly decided to book my flight by phone rather than online. This is where the problems began.
As recommended, I called the Jet2 Special assistance number to book the flight and organise the special assistance I’d require at the airport. Unsurprisingly they were too busy so I was automatically transferred through to their overflow department. The agent I spoke to explained that she could only book my flight, but could not organise my special assistance, allocate our seats or answer any questions I had regarding my wheelchair.
I was told that once I booked my flight I could either call back another time or request someone to call me to book my special assistance. I opted for the callback, but when I was told it could be anything up to 24 hours I stressed it was urgent as I was due to fly in 4 days’ time and anticipating there would be problems I wanted to get things organised sooner rather than later.
To my surprise, I received a call that night from special assistance. The agent allocated our bulkhead seats on the right-hand side of the plane as I planned on using the Eagle Passenger Lifter to transfer to my seat rather than a manual transfer.
After providing the details for my powered wheelchair including the battery and dimensions I was told that the height of my wheelchair would be too high to fit through the cargo hold door. The agent explained that she would need to get clearance from the airport whether they’d accept my wheelchair. She couldn’t guarantee I’d get an answer that night, but it seemed unlikely.
Day Two // Trying To Knock Down Jet2’s Barriers
The following day I received a voicemail while at work. It was the call I was both dreading and desperate to receive. Would they accept my wheelchair or would my planned trip be shattered? Even though I knew what the outcome was going to be I tried to remain positive and hope for the best.
I listened to the voicemail from Special Assistance and it wasn’t looking good. My wheelchair failed clearance due to the height of the backrest. I have to say that my wheelchair is on the small/compact end of the scale, so it was a little surprising to hear it was too high. She also asked on the voicemail if there was any way of removing the backrest and if not I would be denied boarding.
Not able to do anything about this at work, I had to wait until I got home, which was frustrating as there was a high possibility I wouldn’t be able to get through to Special Assistance when I called them back. I couldn’t risk waiting another day for an answer. Time was running.
My boyfriend usually deals with sorting any problems with my wheelchair, but as he wasn’t home at the time I had to get my Mum to try and work out how to remove the backrest so I could inform Jet2 if it was possible. Having a specialist backrest due to my complex seating needs, made my Mum concerned about removing it in case it affected the position it was set to.
It didn’t help that my Mum was suffering from a very sore back, so faffing about with my wheelchair was the last thing I wanted her to be doing, but we had no other option. In the end, I called wheelchair services and asked to speak with one of the bio-engineers I usually deal with. After checking a demonstration wheelchair (like mine) he talked us through how to remove the backrest, but there was a problem. The part that enables my backrest to come off was broken. Typical!
It was a tiny part, but it needed to be replaced if I wanted to remove the backrest easily without using tools. The bio-engineer explained that he would try his best to get an engineer out to my home to replace it but couldn’t guarantee it would be before Friday (my departure date).
Feeling more positive about the situation, I called Jet2 Special Assistance, but once again couldn’t get through so had to leave a message for someone to call me back. Again I had to stress it was urgent, I couldn’t wait another 24 hours, I needed to know whether I was going to be allowed to fly in a matter of days.
The agent returned my call and I was able to explain that my backrest could be removed. Good news, right? All my problems were solved? If only.
It was then that I was hit by not one, but two extra blows.
I would not be allowed to fly with Jet2 if tools were used in any way to remove my wheelchair’s backrest
This meant that if wheelchair services couldn’t manage to get an engineer out to replace that teeny tiny broken part on my wheelchair before my flight and Jet2 weren’t allowing me to use a tool (either my own or airport staff) or by using whatever means necessary then I could not fly with them. If I checked-in, arrived at the boarding gate and used a tool to remove the backrest I’d be denied boarding. Point blank. I would not be entitled to a refund either.
I then tried to explain to the agent that I had flown with Jet2 in the past with the same wheelchair and backrest so why were they refusing it now when they cleared it previously? To my horror, I was informed that my wheelchair had been loaded on its side to fit through the hold. This is a big no-no! Apparently, since my last flight with Jet2 the Dangerous Goods Act has changed and they cannot load wheelchairs in this way now.
The weight of my wheelchair may now be an issue
I gave the agent the weight of my wheelchair along with the dimensions on DAY 1. Why was she now just telling me it could be an issue? This should have been mentioned and checked at the same time as the dimensions. It now needed to get clearance from Dangerous Goods, which could take another 24 hours. This was frustrating, unacceptable and demonstrated poor customer service from Jet2 whilst handling disabled passengers. It seemed as if they were deliberately trying to put barriers in my way to prevent me from flying with them.
Day Three // At The Mercy Of Jet2
Feeling disheartened that my travel plans were literally hanging in the balance at the mercy of Jet2. I tried to think positively, but it didn’t last long though.
Before I left for work that morning I received a call from wheelchair services telling me that they couldn’t get an engineer out to do the repair in time.
I waited and waited and….waited for Jet2 to call me back about the weight of my wheelchair, but no call. Finally having been waiting almost all day and feeling unhappy with the service I was receiving from Jet2, I called them AGAIN. Special Assistance was busy so I was put there to the overflow department AGAIN.
I was informed by the gentleman that it was his first day out of training and that this was only his second call he’d taken. Not wanting to make him any more nervous than he already was I calmly explained the whole situation, pointing out that I’d been expecting a phone call all day but to no avail. He told me he would pass this to Special Assistance to call me back (again it would be within 24 hours).
Not happy with what I was hearing I asked if there were any notes on my booking about the weight of my wheelchair. All he could tell me was there was a note on my booking from 8am that morning, but someone from Special Assistance would need to tell me what it said. It was now almost 4pm. Why had nobody called me yet?
I had one day before my flight was due to depart. I still had return flights to book. Travel insurance to buy. Packing to do. Transport to organise and a whole list of to-dos to check off. But I didn’t know if I was actually going to be allowed to fly with Jet2 as I still needed to be told if clearance had been given to travel with my wheelchair. I also still had the problem with not being allowed to remove my backrest with a tool.
Later that night someone called me back to deliver the “good news” that my wheelchair had been cleared and the weight was no longer an issue. I felt the way in which they told me was as if I should be grateful they were allowing me to fly with them like they were doing me a favour. This didn’t feel right to me. I was giving them my money, but I was expected to just accept the way they had handled my entire booking and the numerous days of waiting for an answer as to whether I could go on MY holiday.
Even though the weight was suddenly not an issue, Jet2 still wouldn’t let me fly with them if I couldn’t remove my backrest without tools. I was asked what I wanted to do and whether I had a manual wheelchair I could use instead. “No, I don’t” was my answer. I have a powered wheelchair for a reason, many reasons in fact. Being unable to self-propel would leave me with zero independence while on holiday and having complex seating requirements means I’m fully reliant on my powered wheelchair, not just for independence but for comfort and posture.
What Else Could I do?
I was left with no other option than to say goodbye to my planned trip I’d been looking forward to for such a long time. I’ve travelled to many destinations with numerous airlines and I’ve never come across one that has refused my wheelchair or given such unacceptable demands.
I was not comfortable giving my money to Jet2, an airline that clearly discriminates against disabled passengers and thinks they can continue to operate when they are clearly in breach of disability discrimination legislation.
Jet2 is the only UK and EU airline to enforce a strict weight limit on powered wheelchairs/scooters. This means that any wheelchairs or mobility aids weighing more than 100 kilograms will not be accepted on Jet2 flights. My powered wheelchair weighs 140 kilograms and I’m pretty certain that most powered wheelchairs weight over 100 kilograms, so what chance does that leave disabled passengers with when trying to book flights with Jet2? Not much!
Jet2 need to waive this ridiculous weight limit on wheelchairs/mobility aids like every other airline. I can’t understand how they are continuing to get away with breaking the law, but it needs to stop.
Have you experienced discrimination by Jet2 or any other airline?
To find out if your power wheelchair/scooter will fit on the aeroplane check out this helpful blog post by my friend, John from WheelchairTravel.org.