Thomas Cook apologises for ‘humilating’ treatment of disabled passenger

A couple from County Durham enjoyed a dream first holiday together in Turkey – but it turned into a nightmare on the homeward flight after the promised special assistance didn’t show up.

Jolene Duggleby, 23, and James Lyons, 29, paid £600 each for the holiday with Thomas Cook, which included flights on the firm’s airline between Newcastle and Dalaman.

Mr Lyons said: “All was going fabulously until we arrived at Dalaman airport for our return journey to Newcastle.”

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The couple were booked on Thomas Cook Airlines flight MT491 on Monday 24 June. 

Ms Duggleby, a wheelchair user who has been disabled since birth, had booked special assistance. But it was not provided at the airport and the couple made their way unaided to the gate. 

“I stated that I was unable to walk onto the plane independently,” she said.

“When I eventually made it to the plane, I was presented with a chair that was able to fit down the aisle of the plane.

“The chair itself requires a lift to be performed by two people. Only one of the members of staff who was expected to do the lift knew how to do this correctly.

“The lift was performed incorrectly and rather than the chair being lifted, the member of staff lifted my legs.

“Due to previous surgeries I have had, it caused me a large amount of pain to be lifted incorrectly. A member of cabin crew staff had to stop them executing the lift and show them how to do this in the correct way.”

While other passengers boarded, a member of staff from Dalaman airport arrived to question Ms Duggleby on her negative airport experience.

“Reliving the issues was making me more stressed and anxious so I advised the staff member that I did not want to discuss it at that point and would be logging a complaint separately.”

After a flight of nearly 2,000 miles, taking over four hours, they arrived at Newcastle – in heavy rain.

Ms Duggleby could see her wheelchair had been left out on the apron.

“I made a request to the cabin manager that my wheelchair be brought up to the plane, to avoid any possible damage,” she said. 

But then they saw the wheelchair loaded onto a luggage trolley with at least two more wheelchairs and an electric scooter piled on top of it.

“I attempted to explain this to the cabin manager a number of times, who continuously stated ‘health and safety’.

“At this point I was becoming quite upset and emotional at the prospect of my chair getting damaged.

“Therefore, I looked away from the cabin manager, in an attempt to contain my emotions – to which I was told, ‘you will look at me when I speak to you,’ as if I were a child.

“At this point, I became very emotional and wanted to exit the plane as soon as possible.”

But there was no sign of the special assistance team.

“I was able to shuffle on my bottom to the front of the plane, when the cabin manager physically stood in my way and would not let me pass, standing over me, as I was sat on the floor of the plane.

“She then began to shout, which progressed to screaming at me, that I could not exit the plane in this manner as it was against health and safety regulations.

“By this point I was in hysterical tears, terrified as I was being screamed at by someone using very aggressive body language.

“Whilst I was still sobbing on the floor, being stood over and shouted at, the special assistance team had arrived with a temporary chair I could use to get off the plane and through the airport.

”Once I managed to get myself onto this chair, the cabin manager shouted, ‘Get this lady off my plane now,’ in a very aggressive manner towards the special assistance staff member.”

When the couple arrived at baggage reclaim, they found that Ms Duggleby’s wheelchair had been broken in several places. 

“I left the airport feeling vulnerable, humiliated, anxious, upset and genuinely traumatised by the mistreatment I had faced. In a role such as this where travellers are already stressed and anxious, I would expect kindness, understanding and patience to be displayed by all members of the Thomas Cook team.”

Under European Union regulations, passengers with a disability or reduced mobility are legally entitled to special assistance when travelling on an EU airline.

“Airports and airlines must provide help and assistance, which is free of charge, and helps ensure you have a less stressful journey,” says the Civil Aviation Authority.

A spokesperson for Thomas Cook Airlines said: “Ms Duggleby’s experience was unacceptable and we are very sorry.

“We have reassured Ms Duggleby that we are investigating what occurred with our special assistance providers at Dalaman airport and Newcastle airport and our crew, and that any necessary measures to make sure this does not happen again are taken.

“Ms Duggleby has accepted a full refund and we are working with her to either repair or replace her wheelchair.”  

The couple say that repairs to the wheelchair could cost more than £1,000, and it may have to be replaced.

“What was an amazing holiday was ruined by the whole return journey experience,” said Ms Duggleby.

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