23 Oct 2012

Paralympics presenter on flying ‘nightmare’

Paralympics presenter Sophie Morgan finds that air travel remains difficult, humiliating and even impossible for disabled travellers, in the latest in our series: A legacy to stand on?

When I had my accident almost 10 years ago, I remember thinking that one of the things that I had lost would be my ability to travel. As soon as I was well enough, however, my dad whisked me off to Canada in an attempt to prove that the world was in fact still “my oyster”, “mine for the taking” and a host of other inspirational clichés.

His plan worked, and any fear or inhibition I had felt about flying was removed and replaced with an empowered and enabled perspective that I could still travel, and that the sky was still the limit.

Over the years I have taken every opportunity available to travel both with work and for pleasure, and I have a plethora of ploys for how best to deal with the unpredictable experience of flying.

From the moment you book your flight you are open to a whole world of problems.

Every airline has a different policy, and every airport too, and it really does feel that while for many the arrival at an airport is a treat, for disabled people, it’s a nightmare.

My experiences

I’ve had some pretty appalling experiences myself. When a passenger’s bags are lost this may be an inconvenience for some, but for people like me it can be devastating. As a paraplegic I rely on various medications and when my bag was lost on a flight to America I had no choice but to return to the UK immediately, and lost out on my holiday.

Air travel problems are 'the norm' for disabled travellers - read more

I’m a wheelchair user and I’ve experienced a whole range of problems when flying with my chair, including a debilitating experience of having my chair taken to the baggage reclaim in pieces with various parts either missing or irreparably damaged. While I love travelling, I can understand why experiences like these put disabled people off.

From the moment you book your flight you are open to a whole world of problems – from fears your chair could be damaged to worrying whether you can get to the toilet. Reports of damaged wheelchairs, inaccessible facilities and compromised health have shown that for the majority of disabled people, flying is the most inaccessible form of transport at present.

‘Heartbreaking’ restrictions

It is heartbreaking that even in 2012, disabled people aren’t having their most basic needs met, and that we aren’t being given the choices that we deserve.

One of the people I met during the Channel 4 News report said he would and could not fly with standards as they are now.

We visited Gatwick – which claims to have raised standards – and I suppose I feel encouraged that things may improve, but I worry it may be slow and that for the moment the majority of disabled people don’t, and wont, feel confident flying.

Follow Sophie Morgan on Twitter @sophmorg.