Passenger told she 'did not look ill enough to be disabled' by airport staff
Getting around an airport can be a hassle for anybody, but it's especially difficult for disabled individuals.
As well as having to worry about getting to the right gate, ensuring that their luggage meets the weight limit, and doing their best to appease the staff after accidentally going through the metal detector with a phone in their pocket, people with mental and physical disabilities will sometimes also have to rely on the help of others in order to make sure they get to their flight on time.
So when Nathalie Allport-Grantham asked for assistance booked special assistance for her flight from the UK to France, the last thing she expected to be told was that she "did not look sick" enough to qualify for help.
In an interview with the BBC, the 23-year-old woman from London explained that she had been left in tears after an airport employee refused to help her.
"[A member of airport staff] basically looked at me and said ‘I’m here to help disabled people, I’m not here to help you,'" recalled Allport-Grantham.
When she had first turned up, the staff had actually provided her with a wheelchair and appeared to be sympathetic to her situation. However, it got taken away while she was waiting in a lounge area and was never returned.
Thinking this was just a simple mistake, Allport-Grantham tried to explain to staff that she suffers from Ehlers-Danlos syndrome and Marfan syndrome, both connective tissue disorders, postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome - a disability which means she becomes weak and faints if she stands up for too long.
However, when she told a member of staff she needed a wheelchair, the woman replied, "I’m actually waiting for someone who cannot walk" - not realising that the someone was actually Allport-Grantham herself. She then went on to imply that the young woman was exaggerating her need for assistance, and even said that she was "wasting their time" by asking for help.
Allport-Grantham – who carries a card for use on public transport, informing people of her disabilities – tried to explain to staff that she is physically unable to lift anything heavy, as it would put her at risk of dislocating her joints or tearing her muscles. But they did not listen.
"She said that if I cannot carry my own bag I should not have brought it with me. When I told her that just because I am disabled doesn’t mean I am not allowed to bring hand luggage, she proceeded to tell me I should either pay a £50 fee to have the bag checked or I should go home. She said that her job was to help people who cannot walk."
In an interview with The Independent, the young woman said:
“It isn’t the first time this has happened to me, and I’m sure it won’t be the last. I want to make a fuss because I believe big companies have a responsibility not only to follow the law but also to educate their staff.
"I was gobsmacked by her behavior. It’s unbelievable that an employee would be so certain that I was faking it that she would speak to me like that.
"People have a sense of entitlement that they ‘know’ who is and isn’t disabled, and if you don’t fit into their idea of disability, it means you’re a liar. It is so sad that people think they know you by just looking at you."
Ryanair, the airline who Allport-Grantham traveled with, said they were "disappointed to hear about Ms. Allport-Grantham’s experience and apologize for any distress caused." However, they also tried to excuse themselves from claiming responsibility for the wheelchair mix-up, saying, "wheelchair services at London Stansted are operated by Omniserv – at great expense to the airlines – and London Stansted is responsible for this service and any problems with it."
Allport-Grantham still hasn't received a satisfactory apology from either the airport or the airline, and says that she has been "emotionally drained" by what happened.