Travelling with wheels – to be back on board Endellion

Finally, after an even worse than usual journey, we are back on board Endellion – and with absolutely no regrets as even the torturous journey can’t dampen our delight at being here. It’s  the usual challenge with long (in fact any) flights: accessibility .. or total lack of it and training for the people who are ‘helpers’, ie, staff. 

 Stewart is brilliant .. just ‘grins and bares it’ which is what one of his ‘handlers’ actually told him to do! A couple of examples of Stewart’s determination and spirit.. not that we want to put off fellow wheelchair travellers. First we had a disgraceful episode boarding in Sydney: Flight crew found the Qantas isle chair (always a bit of joke as they are so tiny and inadequate) wouldn’t fit through the isle so they manhandled Stewart into another chair (even smaller) by having untrained but beefy flight crew lifting him up under the arms, holding him suspended and pulling one chair out and swapping it! It took more than 20 minutes to get from the entrance of the plane to our seats .. which were right at the back of the plane. The crew later told us they were planning on using the rear door right by our seats but didn’t for some reason. 

Singapore… well, everyone knows you have to get off in Singapore. But we had asked the Qantas crew to get dispensation (successful for us two years ago on the same flight). There was no way they would have been able to get Stewart back into a shocking isle chair and drag him all the way through the plane, around the airport in yet another chair and back on board. Apparently the flight Captain tried to get dispensation but no, the Singapore authorities stood over us demanding he disembarks.  Stewart refused. The airport policeman then stood over me and told me to tell my husband he MUST get off here. I told him to talk to my husband not me.  Stewart said “I’m not getting off”. 

The Qantas crew and I thought we’re about to be arrested .. but finally (after an hour or more) the aggressive policeman backed off, telling a Qantas flight attendant “he can stay” but will need to be frisked. The frisker arrived and padded Stewart down .. and completely ignored me. Why did they think Stewart was such a risk but not me? 

 After that … we had a good flight into Frankfurt and the contrast of efficiency and compassion shown at this airport was a very pleasant surprise.

Frankfurt airport isle chair – this should be standard to all airports.

We were greeted by a professional  isle chair along with paramedics to help Stewart with transfers which was a relative breeze, even at the end of this very long journey, down the entire length of the plane. A big disappointment was that his own chair was not at the aeroplane door despite airport regulations that it must be. His chair had been sent to baggage collection. Which meant another several unfair transfers were needed, into the airport chair (nothing like as bad as the Qantas ones which have Stewart’s knees up around his shoulders) and again back into his power chair finally located in the baggage area. 

Next, Frankfurt Sky Train (no ramp required, straight on like everyone else) at Terminal 1 to Terminal 2 for the international long distance train station.  Then ramps are required all the way: Frankfurt to Cologne, Cologne to Brussels, Brussels to Oostende .. and then taxi (or as they call wheelchair accessible varieties here ‘ambulance’, and where Stewart is referred to as a patient not a customer) to our marina.

Stewart .. parked in the on-off space as the wheelchair won’t fit into the carriage!
Stewart on one of the huge ramps needed to get on and off the trains.

 

Final stage of journey is into the ‘ambulance’ at Oostende.

We arrived at VVW Westhoek quite exhausted, taxi dropped us off with all seven bags (a miracle we still had them all) and disappeared. But where is our boat? 

Six of our seven bags – I counted these maybe 50 times during our journey!

At 3.15pm we were not planning on sleeping but to get the boat ready for that, after a year packed away in storage, we had a lot to do. Without the boat we could do nothing but wait .. in the cafe nearby. That meant moving all seven bags again into storage and tracking down our boat. 

Endellion at her old berth at VVW Westhoek, Nieuwpoort.

 

Well, it arrived at 8.00pm and now we are happily tapping away at our keyboards soaking up the wonderful feeling of being with our Endellion on the water in Belgium.

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About Lesley and Stewart

Loving great waterways of the world.
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11 Responses to Travelling with wheels – to be back on board Endellion

  1. John Little says:

    Hi there Stewart and Lesley, I am surprised at your Qantas issues. They have a piece of equipment called an Eagle Lift, like a patient lift hoist and sling. You have to request it at check-in because there is only one at the international terminal in Sydney and it services all Qantas flights. But basically it meets you at the aircraft door, with 2 Qantas staff handlers, where you arrive in your own chair (or at least I hope you do, because I always do) where you have the sling placed around you by the handlers and are then slowly, comfortably and safely lifted from your own chair and taken down the aisle (the Eagle is very narrow) and lowered with dignity into your aircraft seat. I have been using this for 5 years. Only Qantas has them and only at Australian ports, so in Singapore, I as all other wheelies, have to go through the same horrible routine that Stewart bravely refused to submit to. I may give that a shot next time 😉
    So now I have bought a sling called a Lift Seat designed for seat to seat transfers, it’s made in Holland and wraps around you like a patient hoist sling. Suzanne puts it on me and there are 6 strategically positioned handles for manual gripping and lifting. This means that at least the handlers have something to grab instead of the undignified and highly risky under-arm and under leg lift. I have been dropped between seats using this method, though not by Qantas!!!
    We are flying with them into Frankfurt in May and have been told there are lots of accessible taxis at the airport. Do you know if that is true?

    PS I took Qantas to the Discrimination Commission in 2001 and got them to agree to change their systems. Which I believe, in part, led to the Eagle Lift. Anyway I am fascinated by the situations you have found yourself in because in many of the cases I can say “been there, done that”. And as long as we all share our experiences and solutions with as many people as possible it will ensure progress, albeit slowly.

    • Lesley says:

      Hi John .. we’re so pleased to have your messages and especially grateful for your tips on handling Qantas. We experimented with the Eagle Lift have requested it many times with our flight booking and on board before arriving or departing, but they never seemed to be able to deliver it to us. We’ll keep trying. Your suggestion about the Lift Seat is a big hit with both of us .. it’s now on our shopping list as we type!
      Sorry .. we’re not sure about accessible taxis in Frankfurt as we used the train from there to Belgium. We found Frankfurt one of the best (probably the best) airports we have used for wheelchair user support.
      We’re braving another Qantas return trip to Australia coming up in April .. we’ll try again for the Eagle Lift and hopefully will have the Lift Seat with us as backup.

      All the very best to you and Suzanne. It would be great to see you both when we are in Sydney for a few months April to end May.
      Lesley and Stewart

      • John Little says:

        The Lift Seat I bought is made by RoMedic you will find all about it here http://www.romedic.com/en/1651/SystemRoMedic/Lift/Manual-lifting-aids/LiftSeat/ Re the Eagle Lift, as a Qantas Frequent Flyer they have a passenger profile on me and my needs which includes my request for the Eagle wherever it is in service. BUT we don’t even assume that alone will be enough and always insist at check-in that they call through and book it for the gate lounge 15 mins before boarding commences. Sad that it is only available at Australian airports.

        We would love to meet up if you are back in time. We are still at The York, now having bought a slightly larger apartment after 5 years in our very small shoe box! and renovated (AGAIN!!) We will be here for as far into the future as I care to look. So if you are going to be in the city before May 23 which is our departure date, come round for a drink and a bite to eat. Email johndlittle2@bigpond.com or phone 0400 030 833.

        By the way in one of your Blogs you mentioned not having seen a metro station with a lift. If that is still the case I can tell you there is one right out front of the Novotel Les Halles which takes you to the Châtelet metro, I haven’t used it but I remember seeing it every time we left the hotel. The hotel is about a 40 min stroll from Bastille along Rue Saint Antoine continuing on Rue Rivoli bearing right at Rue des Halles.

        Keep in touch and please keep Blogging.

        cheers John

      • Lesley says:

        Thanks again John .. have the link for the Lift Seat, Stewart will send you a separate email as it will be great to meet up when we’re in Sydney. Very best wishes to you and Suzanne.

  2. Hi Stewart & Lesley

    I’m travelling with QANTAS in February / March next year and am already having discussions with them about making sure my needs are met as required. However, the issue I have is not with QANTAS (at this stage), but more with BA who is the airline on the other (major) part of my journey from the UK.

    Despite defining my needs exactly, as I always do, it appears they have interpreted then the way they want and no doubt the details they pass on to QANTAS will be equally wrong. Dialogue continues with both airlines, but you are making me concerned at the level of service I an expect.

    I’m going to start an airline league table on my http://wheelchairsteve.com website and invite positive & negative feedback to determine the best and worst. I hope you will contribute.

    Steve “WheelchairSteve” Wilkinson

  3. Hello Stewart and Lesley

    Just read your blog, it sounds like a nightmare, I had no idea it was so disorganised and unprofessional, it was certainly an eye opener reading this.

    Good on you Stewart for standing your ground at Singapore, I imagine you have a rather stubborn streak lol, and you won on that one.

    Lesley I too wonder why they frisked Stewart and not you, obviously some form of ‘punishment’ for Stewart for refusing to bow down to their archaic rule that was obviously totally unnecessary, as they eventually allowed you to remain on the plane anyway.

    Thank you for sharing your stories.

    • Lesley says:

      Hi Jane .. and many thank for your comment. Yes, he has a stubborn streak but uses it only when necessary!
      All the best
      Lesley and Stewart

  4. Denis Foster says:

    Hi Stewart and Lesley

    It is hard to believe how far we are behind the rest of the world here in Australia. At least Adele Horin keeps trying on behalf of minority groups!
    I hope that you have a great summer on Endellion and are able to get around without too much hassle.
    Your experience with Qantas reinforces my idea never to travel with them again.

    Best wishes

    Denis

    • Lesley says:

      Hi Denis .. very good to have your comments, and Stewart will be in contact separately. We have few hassles as long as Qantas isn’t involved! Most places we find a solution for getting in to and/or around .. and if it’s not possible, we move on to somewhere else, which is the beauty of our boat of course.
      All the best from us.
      Lesley and Stewart

  5. Hi Stewart and Lesley – sounds like quite the harrowing, but rewarding trip! I am an electric wheelchair user and it is all too familiar. I wrote an article suggesting ways to improve air travel for wheelchair users you may enjoy.

    Cheers from Canada,
    Josh

    • Lesley says:

      Hi Josh .. so nice to hear from you and thank you for the notes you compiled for airlines .. I just hope some of them actually take note at some stage. Our very best wishes. Lesley and Stewart

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