My last post outlined the pre-flight problems that I had with Norwegian Airlines. I really expected that the debate about the battery would be as bad as it got, but they managed to make it worse. In fact, check in was a doddle. They had no problem approving the scooter, including batteries, and agreed it could be gate checked. I got through the airport under my own steam and it was much nicer than being pushed through via special assistance.
The trouble started at the gate. I asked them to put my scooter in the ‘priority space’, which is required by US law to take collapsible mobility equipment. Having downloaded FAA guidance on travelling with a mobility aid because of the battery issue, I understood that I was entitled to have my scooter carried on board in the crew cupboard if it would fit, and that my scooter would get priority over other luggage They asked how small my scooter folded to – I duly showed them – then they said there was no space. I challenged this and said that I understood that I was entitled to priority in the space as a result of the equipment being mobility equipment. Then the person at the gate told me that there was no cupboard or space even for crew bags on the plane. I accepted this and asked for reassurance that my scooter would be returned to the gate. I had previous experience on another airline of my scooter getting lost being taken to the baggage hall. I was told that it was unacceptable to return mobility devices to the baggage hall and that it would be at the gate. I was also told that it would be in a container on its own, and it would be labeled so baggage handling staff knew to take it off first. I accepted this.
Despite my being told that there was luggage space on the plane, when I was getting ready to disembark I saw a musical instrument being taken out of a cupboard on the plane. I was very annoyed since it was clear that there was space on board but my scooter wasn’t given priority.
On its own, that would be irritating, but sort of par for the course when traveling with mobility stuff. Unfortunately, it was not the only thing to happen. I got on the plane and the recline mechanism on my chair was broken. They moved me to another seat after a little while – and the seat next to me was empty since the mechanism on it was broken too – not great form for premium. The seat I was in was great. The flight was turbulent but otherwise OK. I had a rough time landing, which sometimes happens when I’m tired. Disembarkation at Gatwick was the next point of drama. I asked whether my scooter was available once all the other passengers had disembarked. Initially, I was assured that it was to be brought to the gate. After around 15 minutes I was asked to take a manual chair from the plane and to get my scooter from the baggage claim. I declined and said that I needed my scooter. After that, the member of ground staff told me a number of things that I believe to be untrue, including:
- The scooter was right outside the aircraft and they knew exactly where it was and would take it to baggage reclaim.
- That the scooter would take at least 20 minutes to bring to the aircraft door because it had to be taken to a lift at the end of the terminal
- That it wouldn’t be possible to bring the scooter to the aircraft door
- That there was no lift available
- That the stairs were too steep and that my scooter couldn’t be carried up them (despite it being in two pieces which weighed well under 15kg)
- That baggage claim crew would not lift any mobility equipment under any circumstances.
He also told me that there was only one member of special assistance available and that I wouldn’t be able to go through the airport without a member of the special assistance staff. He told me that I was delaying another person that was using special assistance because I wasn’t willing to be transported from the aircraft without my mobility device. I told him that it was my legal right to have my scooter brought to the plane, and he said no-one was disputing that.
To cut a long story short, 5 different men tried to make me get off the plane. The pilot suggested ground crew call the police to forcibly remove me. Only one of the men actually came down to my level to talk to me rather than towering over me. Eventually, after a chat with the guy that had the decency to talk to me on my level, I said I’d get off if they would put in writing that my scooter would be brought to the gate. The ground crew guy wasn’t willing to do that, so I stayed on the plane til I heard a radio message to say that they had ‘found’ my scooter in the container with the crew baggage and that they were bringing it back from baggage claim. Almost 40 minutes after the plane got to the terminal my scooter emerged. The delay was less of a problem than the bullying way that I was treated by ground staff and the crew of the Norwegian flight.