Airline forced to apologise after charging woman for carer’s seat reservation

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An airline has been forced to apologise to a disabled woman after it charged her extra to reserve a seat next to her for her carer, and then refused to refund the charge.

Helen Jenkins had informed Flybe when she was booking her return flights from Birmingham to the Isle of Man online last week that she would require assistance.

She and her husband are planning to celebrate her birthday in September with a four-day visit to the island – which they have been told has an excellent, accessible public transport system – before she has a major operation that is likely to rule out flying for another six months.

Because of a mobility impairment, she is unable to put her luggage in the overhead locker, fasten her seatbelt, or leave her seat to use the toilet without her husband’s assistance.

But despite ticking the box for assistance, and being told by the booking system that she could choose her own seat without charge, she was charged an extra £6 each way for her husband’s tickets.

And when she called the company to complain, she was told that Flybe was a “no-refunds airline”.

She said she had been “shocked” when she printed out the booking confirmation to find that she had been charged extra to ensure her husband could sit next to her.

She said: “I was pretty astonished considering the service I have received from every other airline, which has always been first class.”

She has booked two return flights a year to various destinations for the last 10 years and has never previously had to pay to reserve her husband’s seat next to her.

Jenkins said Flybe’s efforts had been “absolutely abysmal”.

She told Disability News Service (DNS): “I said, ‘You’re discriminating against me because I am disabled. I need help and you have said I need to pay extra.’”

According to European regulations, airlines must make “all reasonable efforts” to give a person accompanying a disabled person a seat next to that passenger.

In a document published last October, the UK’s Civil Aviation Authority said it was “not acceptable for consumers that need to sit with a companion so they can be provided with essential support and assistance to either feel they need to pay extra to guarantee a seat next to a companion or to need to pay extra to ensure they are seated with a companion”.

The document said airlines should make it clear before booking – and again at all times when passengers are offered the option to pay for seats – that no such charges will be imposed.

After DNS contacted the airline to raise concerns about how she had been treated, Flybe apologised and said it would refund the extra charge.

It also said it would ensure that all new staff were “fully aware” of its policy that carers should be assigned a seat next to the passenger they are accompanying at no extra charge.

But Flybe had failed by noon today (Thursday) to explain why its online booking system originally added the charge, when Jenkins had made it clear during the process that she would need wheelchair assistance. 

Picture by Flybe

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