Wheelchair assistance - what do you get?

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Old May 9, 19, 8:44 pm
  #16  
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Originally Posted by corporate-wage-slave View Post
You will find the times for when the check-in desk opens for most locations, including VIE, in Manage My Booking / Check-in / Other ways to check-in. Many, perhaps most shorthaul stations will be 2 hours or 2.5 hrs. Some (LCY Greek islands) are 90 minutes. It is standard procedure outside the larger airports that check-in arranges the liaison with the airport's special needs team (e.g. see post 2), LHR is a bit different in that it can be done directly or via check-in.
While I understand check-in times, when you need assistance, you try to get to the airport early as things just take longer. I expected there should be a way to get into a wheelchair before the actual check-in. I tweeted this at BA, and their response was "...We'd expect the airport to still be able to provide this even if the check-in desk hasn't opened"

Anyway just reporting back on the overall experience:

After the initial mishap at Vienna, after check-in, waited five minutes for a pusher to come, and she was excellent. She aggressively manoeuvred her way through the crowds taking us through security and immigration. She didn't ask us whether we had lounge access, but took us straight to the gate. At Vienna, lounges are before security - no big deal since VIE lounge is nothing special and preferred being in place for boarding.

It was a bus gate, and before main boarding started, we were collected and placed into a special "bus" that raised us to the right-hand side door, and we were boarded before the general buses arrived.

Upon arrival at LHR, there wasn't a chair waiting at the cabin door, but halfway down the air bridge. Was pushed to the end of the air bridge where we were put into a buggy and driven along the concourse to the next special assistance gathering point. We had to wait about 15 mins for a chair and pusher to then take us to flight connections where they helped us board the bus, but then the chair was taken away.

At T5, there was another assistance point where they advised we could either wait for a pusher, or we could just take a chair and push ourselves. We took the option to push ourselves, and they told us we could take it all the way to the boarding gate. Upon entry to the BA lounge, they told us that we wouldn't be able to push the chair down the air bridge, but would need someone to do that for us.

However, at the actual boarding gate, the attendant told us we could push it to the aircraft door, but I would have to push the chair back up to the mid point of the air bridge. I was happy to do that.

What was annoying was although they pre-boarded us, and we were standing in the area after the boarding pass scanners, they started boarding everyone at the same time they allowed us to board. I thought SOP was that wheelchairs should be boarded first, and then they allow everyone else to board.

Upon arrival at HK, there was someone waiting at the air bridge who stayed with us all the way to car pickup.
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Old May 9, 19, 9:06 pm
  #17  
 
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Originally Posted by sxc View Post
While I understand check-in times, when you need assistance, you try to get to the airport early as things just take longer. I expected there should be a way to get into a wheelchair before the actual check-in. I tweeted this at BA, and their response was "...We'd expect the airport to still be able to provide this even if the check-in desk hasn't opened"

Anyway just reporting back on the overall experience:

After the initial mishap at Vienna, after check-in, waited five minutes for a pusher to come, and she was excellent. She aggressively manoeuvred her way through the crowds taking us through security and immigration. She didn't ask us whether we had lounge access, but took us straight to the gate. At Vienna, lounges are before security - no big deal since VIE lounge is nothing special and preferred being in place for boarding.

It was a bus gate, and before main boarding started, we were collected and placed into a special "bus" that raised us to the right-hand side door, and we were boarded before the general buses arrived.

Upon arrival at LHR, there wasn't a chair waiting at the cabin door, but halfway down the air bridge. Was pushed to the end of the air bridge where we were put into a buggy and driven along the concourse to the next special assistance gathering point. We had to wait about 15 mins for a chair and pusher to then take us to flight connections where they helped us board the bus, but then the chair was taken away.

At T5, there was another assistance point where they advised we could either wait for a pusher, or we could just take a chair and push ourselves. We took the option to push ourselves, and they told us we could take it all the way to the boarding gate. Upon entry to the BA lounge, they told us that we wouldn't be able to push the chair down the air bridge, but would need someone to do that for us.

However, at the actual boarding gate, the attendant told us we could push it to the aircraft door, but I would have to push the chair back up to the mid point of the air bridge. I was happy to do that.

What was annoying was although they pre-boarded us, and we were standing in the area after the boarding pass scanners, they started boarding everyone at the same time they allowed us to board. I thought SOP was that wheelchairs should be boarded first, and then they allow everyone else to board.

Upon arrival at HK, there was someone waiting at the air bridge who stayed with us all the way to car pickup.
Thanks for the update, clearly some areas for improvement, but no doubt this has improved over the last few decades.
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Old May 10, 19, 1:30 am
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Do assistance passengers still get seats allocated/free seat selection? When my Aunt travelled with us a couple of years ago she and her party all did but recently a friend added assistance and hasn't had seats allocated or given free seat selection.
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Old May 10, 19, 1:50 am
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Originally Posted by SonTech View Post
Do assistance passengers still get seats allocated/free seat selection? When my Aunt travelled with us a couple of years ago she and her party all did but recently a friend added assistance and hasn't had seats allocated or given free seat selection.
In my case the passenger was Gold so can't be certain. However, one thing was that once the seat was allocated by the agent, you couldn't change it yourself in MMB. So maybe they do give free seat allocation.
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Old May 10, 19, 1:50 am
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Originally Posted by sxc View Post

However, at the actual boarding gate, the attendant told us we could push it to the aircraft door, but I would have to push the chair back up to the mid point of the air bridge. I was happy to do that.

What was annoying was although they pre-boarded us, and we were standing in the area after the boarding pass scanners, they started boarding everyone at the same time they allowed us to board. I thought SOP was that wheelchairs should be boarded first, and then they allow everyone else to board.
sxc, it seems to have gone quite well.

On your first point, you were told something completely opposite to what happened to me. Assistance failed to show at the gate*, so I said I could push my Mum to the plane door, help her board, then return the wheelchair to the halfway house. The BA gate agent (adamantly) said that was not possible. I would have to leave the wheelchair at the halfway house and she would need to walk the last part - which she could not do. Assistance finally arrived and we boarded after most other pax.

On your second point, technically yes, special assistance pax 'should' board first, and sometimes it does work, but many times we have been told to head to the plane and Groups 1s are called to board almost immediately afterwards. As we need to use the lift and other pax are using the escalators / stairs, it usually means that when we do get to the plane, we are behind those pax and subsequently delay those behind us, as it takes time for my Mum to board. I guess this is just the gate agents trying to get everyone boarded as quickly as possible - this kind of jibes with recent threads on excess hand baggage!

*As it's Friday and we all need to wind down, I wont go into the inconsistencies and vagaries of Omniserve service at LHR T5!
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Old May 10, 19, 1:56 am
  #21  
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Originally Posted by Lost-in-Space View Post
sxc, it seems to have gone quite well.

On your first point, you were told something completely opposite to what happened to me. Assistance failed to show at the gate*, so I said I could push my Mum to the plane door, help her board, then return the wheelchair to the halfway house. The BA gate agent (adamantly) said that was not possible. I would have to leave the wheelchair at the halfway house and she would need to walk the last part - which she could not do. Assistance finally arrived and we boarded after most other pax.
Yes overall it was a decent experience.

At the First lounge, they told us that we were not allowed to push the chair to the aircraft, implying liability issues. I think something to do with the angle of the ramp. So this is consistent with what you were told at the gate. However, the gate agent was more than happy to suggest that I push the chair to the aircraft.
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Old May 10, 19, 2:19 am
  #22  
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Originally Posted by sxc View Post
In my case the passenger was Gold so can't be certain. However, one thing was that once the seat was allocated by the agent, you couldn't change it yourself in MMB. So maybe they do give free seat allocation.
Assistance passengers do get free seat allocation (full details in ba.com/seating under Disability Assistance) but that's a non-negotiated selection, so it may be best to not use that facility. Obviously the risk of that is that if the passenger then chose an unsuitable seat (e.g. exit row) they would have to be moved somewhere else.

I take the point that you would want to turn up early at VIE, but with HBO people whizzing through at 45 minutes to departure, 2.5 hours is still very early. VIE is a big and yet cramped airport, but it is extremely efficient, some MCTs there are below 30 minutes.

The pre-boarding process SOP, I think you were not a long way off that. What should have happened is that the pre-boards should be sent off first, and thus reach the door of the aircraft first. It may be the start of Group 1 will be immediately behind, but they should then wait at the aircraft door until the assistance passengers reach their seats, then Group 1 can board. The problem that can arise is that sometimes Group 1 will overtake the pre-boards and get to the aircraft door first, but that's not the normal situation. It's a difficult one for the gate crew, for longhaul aircraft the planned time from pre-boarding to doors shut can be just 33 minutes as the maximum start point. If there is a 5 minute delay getting going for whatever reason, allowing 3 minutes to cover the distance, and allowing 5 minutes for final reconciliation checks, then you're try to get 210 people on to an aircraft in under 20 minutes.

I think the broader issue is that travelling with assistance generally remains much more difficult for the passengers concerned, in some cases to the point of shoddiness, and LHR is certainly no exception in this space.
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