As one of the most successful disabled athletes in the UK, I am beyond excited to share my online interview with the legendary Tanni Grey-Thompson.
After my recent blog regarding the difficulty of air travel for wheelchair users, Tanni was one of many who shared my post on social media.
Disabled access on aircrafts is something I have always felt extremely passionate about. If you missed my original post, you can catch up by clicking here.
I reached out to Tanni on twitter and she kindly agreed to feature in a travel-based Q&A.
Where have been some of your favourite places to travel?
I like to go to the USA but that is mostly because the USA is very good for wheelchair access. I love to travel and have been all over the world.
As a wheelchair user, what issues have you faced in regards to air travel?
The biggest issue is not bringing my chair to the gate when it has been tagged. I understand that for security reasons there are some airports that don't allow it, but in many cases there is absolutely no excuse for it.
I do not require any other help than an aisle chair to get to my seat, so it is a waste of resources to allocate a member of staff. I very much dislike being pushed through the airport – I find it patronising.
One of the issues is that the airport chairs do not fit me particularly well and because I can’t move my legs, they end up dragging all over the place.
When travelling for the Paralympic games, did you come across any barriers?
There weren’t really any additional barriers to travelling. Probably the biggest difference is that there would be a lot more wheelchair users on a flight... but that sometimes meant the support was a bit quicker.
Are there any particular airlines that you’ve had more issues with?
I find that it is mostly down to the staff who work for the airline. I've had both brilliant and awful experiences with all airlines. I've had chairs lost, and one time my day chair was returned several months later sawn in half!
Have you ever submitted any formal complaints? And if so, was anything ever done about it?
Yes I have, but most of the time it is a staff issue so they have fed my views into training. Unfortunately this doesn’t always produce a change that is obvious. If I complained every time I had a problem as a wheelchair user, I would spend a lot of time complaining.
If you could improve one thing in regards to aeroplane access, what would it be?
Staff training – treat me like a passenger not an inconvenience.
In your opinion, has air travel improved at all over the years?
Some bits have improved, but some things have gone backwards. I have had a couple of airlines suggest to me that I should not fly on my own and that I should have brought a ‘carer’ with me. I absolutely support the crew not helping with personal care – this is not their job, but sometimes they assume that I may want to ask for help. Being told very directly ‘we can’t help you go to the toilet’ is a little presumptuous and quite rude.
Wheelchair users can now remain in their chairs whilst in cars, trains and buses. Why do you think aircrafts haven't adapted to this change?
It may be too difficult to provide the variety of tie downs that are required. It probably relates to take off and landing as well. I would not want to travel in my chair but could see that people with specialist seating support would prefer to.
A big thank you to Tanni for speaking with me today and for sharing her experiences as a fellow wheelchair user. You can check out some of Tanni's other work by visiting her website or following her on twitter.
There has been a fair amount of press coverage recently regarding disabled access on aircrafts. Although we have a long way to go, it's great that our voices are finally being heard.
The One Show did a great segment recently, after BBC journalist Frank Gardner made headlines for criticising Heathrow Airport's treatment of disabled passengers. After his flight, Frank was kept on the plane for nearly two hours, after staff "lost" his wheelchair.
Creating a wheelchair space on an aircraft instantly solves so many problems. I've recently been following Chris Wood from FlyingDisabled. If you've not heard about his #wheelchAIRtravel campaign, then I definitely recommend you check it out.
The more we keep talking and sharing our stories, the more likely we are to improve these basic services.