Paralympian left stranded on Stansted flight after staff delay
Paralympian and disability rights campaigner Anne Wafula Strike was left stranded at Stansted airport on her return from the world para athletics European championships in Berlin after airport staff failed to meet her flight to take her off the plane.
She said that being abandoned on the plane left her “profoundly distressed”.
“As a wheelchair user, it’s very frustrating and caused me great inconvenience to be forgotten and stuck on a plane,” she stated.
“It also meant that other passengers were held up too. Not good at all. As a disability rights campaigner, I feel that this is an area that needs serious attention. It is happening to far too many disabled travellers.”
Wafula Strike was left on board Ryanair flight 146 from Berlin to Stansted after her journey home to Harlow following the championships in Berlin.
Her flight’s departure from Berlin had been delayed due to storms in the south of Italy, from where the aircraft eventually arrived. It left Berlin late, and landed at Stansted just before 9pm on Friday evening almost two hours after it was scheduled to arrive.
There was a delay of 20 minutes before the doors opened at Stansted but once all the passengers had got off the plane, Wafula Strike was left on the aircraft with Ryanair cabin crew after previously having booked assistance at the airport several weeks before she travelled.
Wafula Strike, who had to wait for around 45 minutes for ground staff to arrive to help her off, said: “Being left alone on the plane after all the hassles of flight delays and depriving myself of fluids to avoid needing to go to the toilet, I felt neglected and desperate as well as profoundly distressed.
“My other worry was whether or not my wheelchair was OK. Was this incident just a mistake or was it negligence and sheer lack of care for disabled passengers?
Wafula Strike received media coverage last year when she went public about an accessible toilet on a train being out of order, forcing her to wet herself because she was on a long journey.
That incident happened in December 2016 and involved a three hour train journey from Nuneaton, also to Stansted Airport.
Following the incident, for which she received compensation from the train company, she was asked by then transport minister Paul Maynard to advise on how to make transport more accessible for people with disabilities.
Wafula Strike was awarded an MBE for her services to disability sport and is a board member of UK Athletics as well as the patron of several disability charities. She said the train incident completely robbed her of her dignity.
Anne Wafula Strike (@Anne_W_Strike)
Like @FrankRGardner I was forgotten on @Ryanair last night at @STN_Airport for a long time because I needed assistance that was booked weeks in advance .. then I had to wait for luggage for longer than the flight @SueWillman #airtravel pic.twitter.com/hPW0VXoMCPAugust 25, 2018
When Wafula Strike was finally taken off the plane she was forced to wait more than an hour in the luggage hall before she could retrieve her luggage – longer than the duration of the Berlin to Stansted flight.
“I had to cancel two taxis that had been pre-booked, then was forced to pay for another taxi,” she said.
The BBC’s Frank Gardner has been stranded on flights at Heathrow Airport twice in the last six months because of failures of airport ground staff to help him off the plane.
Dr Philippa Whitford, SNP MP and surgeon, tweeted: “This is shocking. Travel is about expanding our world. Do Ryanair and Stansted airport think that should not be available to those with mobility issues?”
Wafula Strike lodged a complaint with Ryanair on Saturday and received an automated acknowledgment from the airline.
A spokesperson for the airport said: “We are disappointed to hear about Anne’s experience at Stansted on Friday evening. We are in the process of investigating how such a situation arose and have asked Omniserv, the company responsible for looking after passengers with reduced mobility, for a full explanation of why Anne had to wait for such a long time on the aircraft.
“On Friday evening, bad weather across Europe unfortunately resulted in significant delays to some aircraft landing at Stansted and had a knock on impact on the baggage handling delivery times for a number of our passengers.”
Ryanair has been approached for comment.
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