One of Ireland’s most legendary paralympians has claimed he was a victim of discrimination after he was unable to board an Aer Lingus flight in Heathrow last night because no one was available to carry out a wheelchair transfer.
John Twomey, a sailor from Kinsale and veteran of 10 Paralympic Games, had been travelling back to Cork from South Korea when the drama unfolded. He had been due to fly at 10.15pm but had got to London on time to make the 6.15pm flight.
“I went to the Aer Lingus desk to check in for the 6.15pm flight to Cork at 5.15pm,” Mr Twomey said.
“The gentleman at the Aer Lingus desk could not have been more courteous or helpful. He rang the disability support service at Heathrow to organise the lift-on. They said they were too busy and I would have to revert back to the 10.15pm flight.
“This was not five minutes before the scheduled departure of the flights. Check-in for Aer Lingus flights does not close until 45 minutes before the flight so I had plenty of time.”
Mr Twomey told an Aer Lingus supervisor this was discriminating against wheelchair users. “If I had arrived at 5.15pm and I was able to walk onto that flight, there would have been no problem travelling back to Cork on the 6.15pm flight. She said ‘yes’ but that the resources are very stretched in Heathrow.
“In 2014, it is an absolute disgrace that we do not have proper resources in Heathrow Airport.”
Mr Twomey had been in Seoul as president of the International Association for Disabled Sailing for the Asian games which are being staged there in October.
“I have flown at Cork Airport, Shannon Airport, Dublin Airport, and once you are early for the check-in gate, they will accommodate you on the flight because they are well resourced,” he said.
“It is total discrimination. If I could have walked, I would have been home by 8pm. I am a fairly well-travelled, vocal person. God help someone in a wheelchair who was flying for the first time or was not a frequent traveller.
“I am going to contact Aer Lingus and the Equality Authority here in Ireland. I am also going to contact Brian Crowley MEP who is in a similar situation, operates from a wheelchair, and travels frequently, and hopefully does not get caught by the same problems.”
Aer Lingus last night said: “A passenger was booked to travel on Aer Lingus flight EI 725 from Heathrow to Cork, a 10.15pm departure. A request for a lift-on service, had been made at time of booking. Our medical assistance team require such requests be made 48 hours pre-departure to ensure the required service is available.
“The passenger arrived to the airport early and inquired about changing to an earlier flight. The next available flight was due to depart 50 minutes later. Due to the short notice, our special assistance service provider had insufficient time to facilitate the request. We regret that we were unable to accommodate the request and for any inconvenience caused.”
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