Airline travel with a disability

Dealing with huge challenges


Sherrill Semple
Sherrill Semple

Much more needed

Bethann Siviter
Bethann Siviter

Two British women are calling for airports and airlines to establish expert advisory groups in a bid to change the way airline passengers with disabilities are treated in the UK. Model Sherrill Semple, who has hereditary spastic paraparesis, and wheelchair user, nurse and journalist Bethann Siviter, would like to see expert groups in place – such as those appointed by London Underground and British Rail – plus trained designated staff members at airports and on board airlines, who are aware of the challenges people with disabilities face when travelling by air.


Horror stories

Echoing sentiments expressed by disabled passengers to Runway Girl Network in the fall of last year, Semple and Siviter list a catalog of horror stories drawn from personal experience. Semple explains, “I don’t like asking for special assistance as I’ve been treated so badly when I’ve received it.” Her condition means that her muscles freeze up painfully and she becomes fatigued easily, so she now asks for a wheelchair when she flies. She cites agents not speaking to her once she’s in the chair, security officers asking her to get out and walk through screening, and, worst, being parked up alone and unable to move in front of the air bridge door for an hour before an airplane boarded.

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Siviter, meanwhile, tells of a 2014 journey where she complained about being forced to wait apart from her husband with other disabled travelers. When she asked to join him, she says the flight attendant told her she was “good at being disabled” and to “focus on that”, while the attendant sorted out the “normal passengers”. On that flight Siviter watched powerless from the cabin as a ground support agent dropped and smashed her wheelchair, a.k.a. her legs, for which she received no compensation, despite complaining.


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SOURCE: Runway Girl Network, Aug 4 2016


Call for UK carriers to stop clipping disabled passengers’ wings


Author Liz Moscrop


  1. Hi, I have Heredity Spastic Paraparesis and have a portable mobility scooter that weighs about 16kg that I use. It is powered by a lithium battery that has been approved for airline travel. This portable travel scooter enables me to travel with a bit of dignity and has been available for about 5 years, however every airline and airport that I have flown with or out of seems to have a different policy. When I last flew interstate, (I live in Australia) on departure I had to use an airline supplied wheelchair, the reason that was given to me was that batteries were not allowed on the tarmac, yet when we landed, my scooter was brought out to me on the tarmac and I rode into the terminal. I need to travel on airlines at least once a year to see doctors, I dread it because of the inconsistencies. I have heaps of horror stories regarding airline travel!

  2. My husband Graham has hereditary spastic paraparesis and we have travelled a number of times overseas without incident. We take his manual wheelchair and have always asked for assisted boarding when flying. Singapore Airlines have always been great. We check his chair in with our luggage then use the airline’s wheelchair which is ok with us. I am always with him and an attendant is supplied to push the wheelchair, take us through customs, to the boarding lounge and then to the door of the plane. We are always one of the first to board the plane and last to leave at our destination. A wheelchair is waiting at the door of the plane and again we have an attendant to push the chair. This attendant helps us again through immigration, to get our luggage and even to the taxi rank where the attendant helps us into the taxi. We may be the last to leave the plane but we always seems to be fast tracked through the airport (sometimes via a buggy) and often get to the taxi rank before any of the other passengers. Our experiences so far have been good. For the last four years we have done at least one overseas holiday each year but we always fly Singapore Airlines. Off to China in November. Let’s hope the good experiences continue.

  3. I travelled last June from Melbourne to Ireland with Qantas and they were brilliant. Great help and great service. Ask for assistance when booking ticket. Also with Emirates they were also fantastic. No complaints at all.

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