A partially-sighted Stockport man was left stuck waiting for help on a broken down plane for 40 minutes – while other passengers were ready to jet off. Chris, 29, had already had a challenging time boarding his Good Friday flight from Manchester Airport to Belfast before the easyJet plane had been unable to take off.
Passengers on-board the 11.55am service waited almost three hours after the technical fault emerged before a new flight was prepared to take off at 2.45pm. But while other passengers could soon make their way over to the new flight, Chris had to wait for assistance staff at Manchester Airport – and was left stuck on the original plane until 3.30pm.
He told the Manchester Evening News : “My seat was towards the back, but by that point the rear stairs had been taken away, so I had to walk past everybody which was really embarrassing. The crew were saying it wasn’t my fault, but I could feel people looking at me, and as soon as I touched the seat we were moving off.
“I get that there are staffing issues, be we knew there was going to be another plane for probably an hour and a half before this happened. How could they not find someone to walk two minutes from one aircraft to the other in that time? They had loads of notice.
“The easyJet crew were brilliant, but they were frustrated as they had to wait for the assistance from the airport. I got the impression that it was not unusual.”
Chris, who asked not to give his surname, had arrived at Manchester Airport at around 9.15am and booked in at the Terminal 1 assistance reception. He says that usually he would be taken through security to departures ‘fairly quickly’, but on this occasion he was collected after 10.35am by a member of assistance staff who also had to push a passenger in a wheelchair at the same time.
“I had to try and avoid treading on the wheels, which is very difficult with my sight,” said Chris. “But you also feel like you don’t have their full attention and I imagine it was pretty awkward for the lady in the wheelchair too – particularly at security, as I had to stand there and wait for her to be sorted.”
Unlike other passengers, those using help from assistance staff have to wait to be guided through Manchester Airport to departures. Chris, who has no sight on one side, added: “It wouldn’t be too much trouble to get a flight from a different airport in future – Liverpool isn’t too far, or Leeds.
“For an able-bodied passenger, there are things you can do to mitigate the chaos, you can arrive earlier and you can run. But when you are a disabled customer it’s completely in their hands.”
ABM, the company which runs Manchester Airport’s special assistance service, says ongoing disruption may have an ’emotional impact’ on customers – but insists it is working hard to minimise this. An ABM spokesperson said: “We understand the importance of the special assistance service we provide passengers, and delivering that service with efficiency, respect, and care is critical.
“We regret any time when our service does not meet that standard, and are working with our teams and partners in examining [Chris’] experience. As the aviation industry adjusts to life after the Covid-19 pandemic and the ongoing pressure of the national recruitment market, we are experiencing periods of service disruption.
“We know that we are not alone in this challenge and understand the inconvenience and emotional impact which this may have on individuals travelling over the coming weeks. We are working in collaboration with all our clients to minimise the impact, doing all we can to keep people, places and spaces safe as we navigate this phase of the pandemic.”
A spokesperson for Manchester Airport added: “We want all passengers to have the best possible experience at Manchester Airport and welcome feedback about services provided by all our partners. We are assured by our special assistance provided that all aspects of this case have been fully investigated and any lessons learned are being acted upon.”