Over the years, I have written a few posts about travelling with mobility issues. Usually they are informative (I hope) and generally positive. Recently I travelled to Malaga for a holiday. It was a tricky decision because of the pandemic, but we decided on balance it would be safe to use air travel and have a holiday abroad.
The holiday was great and much needed. I find a constant warm and dry environment improves my health. I stop needing my asthma inhaler and my MS doesn’t cause me too much trouble. Prior to this holiday, I had a five-day course of IV steroids, which has helped my mobility so much that I can walk short distances, unaided. The emphasis is on short. As usual, I booked PRM services in Dublin Airport and Malaga Airport.
At both airports there was a shortage of PRM staff, with delays as a result. However, in Dublin, despite this staffing issue, I was still brought through the entire process with dignity and the odd, friendly bit of Irish banter. My experience in Malaga airport was horrible and my dignity took a massive hit.
Let me explain why.
The trip to Spain
On arrival at Malaga airport at the start of my holiday, me and two other PRM (People with Reduced Mobility) passengers had to wait in the airplane for a good 30 minutes after the last able-bodied passenger disembarked. When they finally arrived and we got off the plane, the new passengers were embarking. The captain even apologised for the delay. Once we got on the tarmac and into the main building, the person who collected me had to return to the airplane to collect another two people. Usually, they would allocate one person per PRM passenger.
Then we had to go through the process of passport control and baggage claim. This was much longer than usual, as there was only one PRM operative. At one stage, I had to get out of the wheelchair and go through some security gate on foot, to be met by another person who would bring me the rest of the way. I don’t understand why this has to happen and if I fell while in this security corridor, what would happen? Once we had gone through the various COVID checks and collected the bags, they brought us close to the taxi rank. Forcing me to walk after over 12 hours of travel. There is no respect for the PRM passenger.
The return journey
When our taxi dropped us off at the airport and we entered the building, we saw a disabled meeting point with a call button. This is a great idea, as it prevents us having to search for the PRM desk, which is often located a long way from the airport entrance, except for Dublin airport. I pressed the button and after some time; they answered the call. I gave my name and flight details and I was told to wait at this place for me to be collected and brought to the next stage.
Looking around this spot, there were no seats. Not one. We explained to the person on the other end of this call that I cannot stand safely and need to sit. They said I had to wait there, and not to move. Fortunately, I was travelling with my partner, who could stand and wait. Imagine I was alone. I would have to sit on the floor by the meeting point, and would have to have the embarrassing possibility of not being able to get off the floor. Also, as they didn’t give us an idea of how long it would take, I wouldn’t be able to go to the toilet.
After a lengthy wait, as I noticed a few half filled PRM buggy’s passing by, we were finally collected. We then travelled the length of the airport three times before we finally went through security. The person in front of us had a broken leg and needed crutches to walk. The crutches went through the x-ray machine before the traveller went through the security arch. Then they requested they pass through this without the crutches, and they did the same for me. Surely, if they scanned the walking aids (my stick is made of wood) they could allow us to use them. It made little sense, plus they were taking an enormous risk if either of us fell.
Then we were brought to the gate, with no chance to see the shops, get something to eat or even go to the toilet. I was just like a parcel, an object, not a person. Then we got to a lift and there were no wheelchairs, so I had to stand. It was a brief trip, but when the door opened, I had a very long, for me, walk to the gate. The PRM person refused to get a wheelchair and insisted I walk. This took me an age as my walking by this time had reduced to a snail’s pace, with both legs heavy, very heavy.
Then the hour long wait for the flight to board. We were concerned about boarding the plane as everything was delayed, even though we arrived 2.5 hours before the departure time. We alerted the boarding staff that I had booked help for boarding, as stairs are a major obstacle for me. As the plane boarded, no sign of anyone. The line was smaller and smaller, eventually with the announcement of the final boarding call. Four times we alerted the staff, and it looked like I would have to do the arduous task of walking and climbing.
Someone arrived with a wheelchair as the flight was closing and they brought me to the base of the stairs leading up to the plane. I was told we could wait for the lift, but it could be another 20-30 minutes, sitting in my wheelchair on the tarmac, with all the passengers looking out at me, thinking another disabled person delaying everything. I made the hard choice of climbing the stair. This involved me lifting each leg with my hands up on each step. After a few steps, the wheelchair attendant lifted my leg for me to speed up the process. I felt like a piece of meat. After an enormous struggle, I was on the airplane.
My experience in Malaga airport was one of the most degrading experiences I have had in a long time. Living with a disability is difficult, facing many challenges, often daily. To have it exacerbated by a sub-standard PRM service makes life much more difficult. They must do better.