A woman who suffers from an invisible disability has called for better training for airport staff after being refused the wheelchair access she had applied for and told she was “wasting time”.
They say don’t judge a book by its cover, and when it comes to invisible disabilities this saying couldn’t be truer.
At first glance, Nathalie Allport-Grantham doesn’t appear to have any obvious ailments. But in reality, the 23-year-old suffers from a number of debilitating conditions meaning that extensive walking or heavy lifting could cause dizziness, fainting or even the rupturing of organs.
But when boarding a flight to Nice in France on 31 December with her boyfriend, Allport-Grantham was severely let down by Stanstead Airport and its staff after being denied the support she had pre-applied for.
Allport-Grantham requested wheelchair assistance when purchasing her Ryanair flight, which should have guaranteed wheelchair access to the boarding area and further support to climb the stairs of the plane and help to lift her bags.
However, after being initially wheeled to the gate by her boyfriend, an airport staff member removed the chair with the apparent intention of replacing it with a more comfortable seat. When it became obvious that the staff member wasn’t going to return, Allport-Grantham was forced to walk the five-minute journey to the boarding area, where she was challenged on her disability status.
Allport-Grantham suffers from Ehlers-Danlos syndrome (EDS) and Marfan syndrome which are a group of disorders that affect connective tissues supporting the skin, bones, blood vessels, and many other organs, causing symptoms ranging from loose joints to life-threatening complications.
She also has an abnormally increased heart rate which can be triggered simply by sitting up or standing, causing dizziness and fainting, called postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome (POTS).
Although hard to initially recognise, these disabilities make travelling an exhausting, difficult and potentially dangerous experience for Allport-Grantham, hence why she requested extra support.
But when she approached the member of staff who was supposed to assist her on to the plane, she was told “If you want someone to carry your bags, you have to pay £50”.
Clearly misunderstanding what Allport-Grantham was trying to convey, the staff member continued to say, “I’m actually waiting for someone who cannot walk. If you want to get on the plane I suggest you queue up like everyone else.
“If you don’t want to carry your bag, it’s £50 to have it put in the hold. I’ve got disabled people to help and you are wasting their time.”
After further attempts to explain the possible consequences of carrying her luggage, she was even warned, “don’t bring a heavy bag then.”
Eventually another member of staff was able to confirm Allport-Grantham’s disability request and she was able to board the plane via a wheelchair, but has received barely any support or apology since the incident happened from either the airport or airline.
Allport-Grantham told The Mighty that she has approached both Stanstead Airport and Ryanair on Twitter but has heard little back from either of them. While Ryainair ignored her entirely, Stanstead has asked for more information but has so far not responded to her offer to give disability training to airport staff.
The Independent reached out for comment, but it seems that both the airline and airport are passing the buck to the airport’s PRM provider Omniserv.
Ryanair claimed that any issues with disability support should be directed to Stanstead, saying, “London Stansted is responsible for this service and any problems with it.”
While Stanstead alludes that the airline does hold some responsibility, as does Omniserv. A spokesperson for the airport said, “Special assistance is booked directly with the airline and handled by the airport’s PRM provider Omniserv. We are speaking to the provider to find out more about the circumstances of the incident.”
Twitter users are also keen to take up the mantle, questioning why she hasn’t received better compensation.
One social media user tweeted Ryanair asking, “What are you going to do about the odious troll employee of yours who belittled Nathalie Allport-Grantham?”
Another shared a similar sentiment, tweeting the airline, “Did you already answer to Nathalie Allport-Grantham? Did you already fired that idiot that you have as an employee?”
Although the treatment that Allport-Grantham received was unacceptable, she’s keen to stress that it’s not the individual staff member she dealt with who at fault but the education and training that the airlines and airports are failing to provide.
Speaking to Stylist.co.uk, Allport-Grantham said, “I’d like to add that I’m not upset with the staff member herself but at Stansted for not providing the right training to her staff. I think visible disability discrimination needs to be addressed by big companies and by the government.”
She also told The Mighty, “I don’t blame the lady herself because it was clear she truly believed her job was to help paralyzed people or those that can’t walk at all. People like me, which is the majority of disabled people, just didn’t enter her mind.”
Allport-Grantham’s wish is to now spread awareness of invisible disabilities and make airlines realise how important training on them is, a cause we are completely behind.
Images: Nathalie Allport-Grantham