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Disabled woman has to be lifted off plane by husband, 66, after airport delays

A woman with a rare form of muscular dystrophy had to be lifted and carried by her 66-year-old husband after delays to two flights – leaving her highly distressed. Suzanne Croft, 53, had to be helped from the plane while passengers waited to board at the gate after an assistance team failed to turn up.

The incident on the flight from London to Newcastle came after Suzanne had almost the identical experience – with 90 minute delays – earlier in the day on the flight from Newcastle to London. Muscular Dystrophy UK has now called on the aviation industry and the Government to take action to ensure disabled people get the support they are legally entitled to when traveling by air.

The charity says wheelchair-users are now fearful of travelling. Air passengers with a disability or reduced mobility are legally entitled to accessibility support when traveling by air.

Suzanne, a retired dental practice manager flew from Newcastle airport to Heathrow last Thursday after attending a vital clinical study at a hospital in Newcastle. But when Suzanne’s BA flight landed at Heathrow, she had to be lifted and helped off the plane by her husband and the crew of the next flight after special assistance failed to arrive. The passengers of the next flight were already at their gate ready to board.

Suzanne had earlier that day already experienced a near 90-minute delay in boarding the same flight at Newcastle as special assistance and equipment was not available at the right time to help her board. The delay caused the flight to depart an hour late and left Suzanne highly distressed.



Suzanne Croft

“I felt so embarrassed and it has left me quite traumatized,” said Suzanne. “The rest of the passengers had already been boarded so long they had been given snacks and water — and didn’t look happy.

“As a wheelchair user, it was so humiliating to be loaded onto the plane and into my seat in front of everyone. I felt so upset and guilty to be the cause of a one-hour delay in departure – as well as the knock-on delays on the following flights.”

Suzanne’s condition, Limb Girdle muscular dystrophy, causes severe muscle-wasting and weakness, so she is entirely dependent on her wheelchair – which has to be checked into the aircraft hold – for mobility.

“When the flight landed at Heathrow, everyone else disembarked, but the special assistance failed to arrive,” Suzanne said “The crew and captain of the next flight boarded and both captains were radioing for special assistance, but none was available.

“In the end my husband, who is 66, had to lift me out of the seat, assisted by the new crew, and they had to place me in a folding aisle chair which had no seat belts. My husband held my legs in while a kind crew member of the next flight pushed me to the arrival lounge. It’s not the waiting – I’m used to that. It’s the indignity and humiliation.

“It’s just not good enough. I don’t want to get the cabin crew and the captain into trouble – they were so helpful and kind – the captain even carried our luggage to the taxi. And I know the special assistance people are doing the best job they can. There’s just not enough special assistance staff and equipment – ​​that’s the problem.”

“I was shocked about the recent sad incident at Gatwick – and I feel it is my duty to speak out,” she added. “There needs to be prompt immediate action from airports to prevent further tragedies. Apologies aren’t enough”.

The incident follows a string of similar cases at UK airports reported by other wheelchair users in recent weeks, including the death of a man who fell from an escalator at Gatwick Airport after waiting for special assistance. Muscular Dystrophy UK, which funds medical research, as well as supporting and campaigning for individuals living with muscle-wasting conditions, says disabled people are being left behind in the post-pandemic return to activity.



Suzanne Croft
Suzanne Croft

Robert Burley, Director of Communications, Care and Support at Muscular Dystrophy UK, said: “Air passengers with a disability or reduced mobility are legally entitled to support, known as ‘Special Assistance’, when traveling by air – but airports have repeatedly failed to deliver on this recently and the Civil Aviation Authority must hold these companies to account.

“We are concerned that as we emerge from the pandemic, disabled people, including those with Muscular Dystrophy and muscle-wasting conditions, are continuing to experience barriers to resuming everyday life.

“Evidence shows disabled people’s lives were the hardest hit by COVID-19, and inequalities have widened*. As travel restrictions have begun to ease and the wider general public are summarizing their lives, disabled people are still being disproportionately impacted.

“It is essential disabled people get the accessibility support they need to live life as fully as possible, – and that includes using all forms of transport for both business and pleasure.

“To ensure this, the Government must take action to ensure all transport is accessible to disabled people as a matter of urgency. The National Disability Strategy (2021), which set out the actions the Government will take to improve the everyday lives of all disabled people, included a commitment to enable disabled people to travel with confidence by addressing staff training and support, but it did not specifically cover travel by air.”

Suzanne Croft said, “The way I feel at the moment, I don’t ever want to fly again, but the study I’m taking part in in Newcastle is so important for myself and others with my condition. I feel so sad that something like flying, that should open up so many opportunities and experiences to me, has now been turned into something I will dread.

Research published last week by the Activity Alliance, a charity that advocates for disabled people in sport and activity, reveals the extent to which disabled people feel forgotten in the pandemic recovery.

The survey of 941 disabled people and 885 non-disabled people found that fewer than three in ten disabled people felt encouraged to return to activity after the pandemic; whilst only four in ten felt they can be as active as they want, in contrast to non-disabled people who are now more likely to say they can be as active as they want.

Muscular dystrophy UK brings together and supports people affected by more than 60 rare and very rare progressive muscle-weakening and wasting conditions. Recent research has revealed that there are more than 110,000 people living with muscle-wasting conditions in the UK, which is more than previously thought

Suzanne’s condition, Limb Girdle Muscular Dystrophy, type R2, effects the muscles of the shoulder and pelvic girdle. For her it has progressed to the point that she needs help with all aspects of daily living and care, and she has had to retire for medical reasons.

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