This trip will always have a special place in my heart, as it was the first trip involving aircraft in the wheelchair. However, I've been on planes plenty of times before that, and thanks to my amazing gran, I travelled well as a child. In this blog post, I'll be reviewing the flight itself, as well as the booking process for assistance at the airports, and the actual assistance received at the airports.
British Airways has a very good section on assisted travel and medical conditions on their website, as well as a dedicated phone number to book assistance at the airport, ask any questions as well as getting advice. The biggest plus with BA for me was that I was able to have my wheelchair gate checked which meant I could use it all the way up to the plane (normally). I say normally, because later you'll read about how I didn't just use it to the plane door, I actually got to use it ON the plane! The planes all have at least 1 accessible toilet onboard which can be reached via the planes aisle wheelchair, and on larger planes where there's room, you can even have your chair stored in the cabin! 1 tip for those travelling in First/Club World, if you have an active wheelchair that folds small so that you can put it on the front seat of your car, ask if you can store it in your storage area near your seat, that way then when you want to move about the cabin, you can do so in your own chair, as there's enough room between the seats to do this. My chair also fitted down the first bit of the aisle on A321, which meant that instead of transferring to the aisle chair outside, I was able to get all the way to my seat in my own chair! Plane and airline wise, the staff couldn't be more helpful, even if they were surprisingly shocked about just how far into the plane my chair could get!
The airport lounges were brilliant, and I'll do a separate post on the Aspire Lounge at T5 as part of my review. The fast track security at terminal 5 security couldn't be any smoother and the guys were pretty friendly, the only gripe I have with Heathrow is that they took 50mls of Diazepam from a 100ml bottle which lead to me running out on my holiday and having to experience the fun of Scotlands NHS! Edinburgh's security topped it for me though! Their security guys were not only great with a brilliant Scottish humour, they told me everything they were going to do, made our transition through security as smooth as possible, and were just generally very helpful. I actually cannot wait to fly into and from Edinburgh again because of that positive experience.
The problems however, were with the assistance guys at London Heathrow. Whilst Edinburgh's airport assistance couldn't be more helpful and were the ones who found out my chair could go into the cabin of the A321, the London Heathrow guys were not only late despite boarding being 30 minutes delayed anyway, but they'd stressed the boarding/turnaround manager, ground staff, and cabin crew out, and almost forgot me! The problem was that until I was loaded, BA couldn't load anyone else, as most wheelchair category C passengers will know, you're first on and last off regardless! I must have said it's ok hundreds of times when the BA crew we had kept on apologising to me, and I even told them that at the end of the day, it's not their fault because they did everything by the book and knew I was coming. The fault was entirely with Heathrow Airport and whoever did there airport assistance. The biggest problem I found out about Heathrow was that the amount of people who abuse the assistance system to get through security quicker (believe me, it doesn't work), meant that constant staff shortages resulted in these delays, and from what I've heard, I had a better experience of Heathrow's assistance.
On a positive note, I thought I'd elaborate on Edinburgh's amazing airport assistance last because honestly, these guys were just great in so many ways. Not only were they ready and waiting for us when our plane arrived at the gate, which meant that I was only on the plane whilst the other passengers were getting off, they were the ones who realised that they could just take my normal chair on, and put me in it on the plane instead of the hassle of two transfers within a minute of each other. To this day, I wish I got a photo of the cabin crew and pilots reactions to my chair being in the main cabin, fully assembled for me to get into. I don't think they first believed me when I said my chair would go on the plane, and get to the first few rows of seats! They also gave Brett a break from pushing me around the airport, and helped us get our bags from the baggage drop, as well as helping us get a taxi into central Edinburgh, and even giving us tips on what to visit whilst up there. Honestly, these literally were the best assistance guys you could imagine having, and I honestly don't know why Edinburgh isn't rated higher than what it is for passenger assistance.