Fair Play: Trouble on the home leg

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IT’S lucky for Islanders that we have a system of reciprocal health care with the UK, otherwise it would have been an even more expensive trip for Mark Jones on his last visit to England.

His experience of the UK’s NHS may have been exemplary, but his dealings with Bmibaby and Jersey Airport were not.

Mark is the trip organiser for the Jersey Learning Difficulties Football Team and organised a weekend trip to England in late June.

‘The main intention of the trip was to participate in a highly prestigious football competition in Harrogate against 63 teams from all over the UK,’ explained Mr Jones. ‘Our party of 29 included 18 players all with learning difficulties with an age range of 13 to 44.

‘Unfortunately during the tournament my 16-year-old son Ryan who has Down’s syndrome, dislocated his knee, which obviously required immediate hospital treatment. He had his leg heavily bandaged from foot to thigh, with specific instructions not to bend his knee. The next day we returned to Jersey and he was put in a rigid leg brace for six weeks, with the same instructions not to bend his knee. He has had to use a wheelchair since’ said Mark.

As they were due to fly from Manchester the day after the accident with bmibaby, Mark contacted the airline to advise them of the situation and find out what special arrangements could be put in place. ‘I was informed that he would have to lie across three seats and consequently I was told to buy two additional seats at a cost of £221! I was told there was no flexibility in this arrangement, so obviously I paid the extra.’

At Manchester airport Mark was able to obtain a wheelchair with a leg extension, which he’d been told was essential, and boarded the plane with the use of a hydraulic lift.

‘However, when I disembarked from the plane in Jersey (again by a hydraulic lift), to my consternation they had a wheelchair without the required leg extension. I told the staff that this was totally inadequate as his leg had to be straight at all time. To my dismay I was informed that the standard wheelchair was all they had at the Airport.’

Mark was left with no option but to stoop forward supporting his son’s leg from the runway to the arrivals door where his wife was waiting for them with a suitable hired wheelchair.

‘As I’m 52 with a history of back problems, this was an extremely uncomfortable and painful situation for me, when all I should have been concerned about was my son’s wellbeing’ said Mark.

‘I’m sure I can be criticised for not having any travel insurance, but as anyone involved in charity work will confirm, trips of this type are hugely dependant upon fund-raising, and unfortunately, not all perceived expenditure can be met.’

So we got in touch with Steve Read, Jersey Airport’s terminal and security manager for a response to Mark’s experience and received the following comment:

‘Neither Jersey Airport nor Bmi’s local handling agent, Airline Services can speak on behalf of the airline and the issues raised by Mr Jones. However, after discussion with Airline Services I can confirm that neither they nor Jersey Airport were given advance information as to the level of assistance required by Mr Jones’s son other than a request for a wheelchair upon arrival.

Although our standard wheelchairs do not have leg extensions, had we been informed in advance we of course would have made alternative arrangements for him, including permitting the chair hired by the family to be waiting airside. Jersey Airport prides itself on its high levels of customer care and we have every sympathy for Mr Jones’s son and the obvious discomfort and distress caused to him.’

Fair Play also got in touch with bmibaby for their response and rather predictably they sent this reply; ‘If a passenger needs extra seats on a flight, then they are required to purchase the seats at the current selling price, this policy makes it fair for all paying passengers.’

Mark is not surprised at the Airport and Bmibaby’s comments and remains extremely disappointed over the whole affair. ‘It’s what I expected from bmibaby. But I find the lack of a suitable wheelchair deplorable when taking into account the level of public money continually being ‘thrown’ at the Airport. It’s ludicrous that the Airport hasn’t got leg extension for a wheelchair. It’s dead simple – at home we’ve got a simple clip-on leg extension – it’s really very easy.’

• Picture: Ryan Jones with his father, Mark, and the wheelchair with the clip-on leg extension

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