Skip to content

A Disabled Woman’s Experience With British Airways

March 26, 2018

The story of reader Alex Thorburn, reader Rachael Monk and British Airways.

I have had the privilege of being friend, advocate and advisor to Rachael Monk for just over 20 years and during that time we have fought and won many battles together.

Rachael was born with Cerebral Palsy and as a result she cannot control any of her limbs and has no verbal speech.

However, Rachael uses a talker to aid communication.

Rachael’s experience with British Airways:

Steph has been her great friend and confidante for as long as I can remember, and it was really difficult when Steph moved to Canada to begin family life over there.

However, Rachael flies over to Calgary as often as she can financially manage to do so, and Steph has also come back to visit Rachael.

They have a bond and love that will never diminish with time.

So, early in 2017, Rachael began to make plans to visit Steph and her family in Canada.

She began to save for the trip because the costs are substantially higher than would be the case if Rachael was not a disabled person.

Travelling as a disabled person who requires support in order to fly as well as being hugely expensive also takes a massive amount of forethought and planning.

As airline tickets are often cheaper if purchased well in advance, Rachael first discussed this with her PAs.

Two of the PAs agreed to travel with Rachael to provide support during the journeys and when she was in Canada.

Dates for the journey were discussed with the two PAs and they finally settled on 30th April 2018 as their departure date.

So, in July 2017, Rachael bought the 3 tickets for herself and her two PAs that had promised to be available to provide her with the support that she required.

The total sum that Rachael had to pay was therefore £460 x 3 = £1,380.

Further planning and preparation could then go ahead as they knew the timescales involved.  All was well until without warning and without providing any notice, one of the two PAs that had promised to fly with Rachael to give the necessary support left Rachael’s employ.

This left Rachael feeling very betrayed and abandoned.  However, with almost 4 months still to go before the trip to Canada it should be a simple task for British Airways to change the name on the ticket to allow another of her PAs to take the place of the one that left.

Rachael’s Senior PA – Michelle, (who had agreed to travel) called British Airways Customer Service to have them simply change the name on the flight ticket to another PA who had agreed to step in and replace the PA who so abruptly left Rachael and for Rachael to pick up the pieces.

However, that was where Rachael’s problems with British Airways began in earnest.

BA refused to change the name on the ticket to allow the substitute PA to fly with Rachael and they told her that Rachael would have to buy a new ticket for the substitute PA.

This meant that Rachael would lose the £460 that she had paid for the ticket to take the PA who left her employ.

That was when Rachael contacted me. I immediately wrote to all 5 of the senior Executives at British Airways HQ, explaining this problem and how it had impacted on Rachael.   No reply came from BA to those 5 letters.

By this time, Rachael was very stressed and worried that due to the intransigence of BA she may not be able to visit her best friend Steph in Canada.

Rachael was also very concerned that if she had fallen into this trap of a discriminatory policy in BA that many other disabled people who require support to fly with BA could also fall into this same trap.

This was why I was asked by Rachael to publicise the fact that others could be negatively affected by BA’s discriminatory policies.

So, I posted to the Facebook page “British Airways Complaints” and with a picture of Rachael and Steph I told the story of how someone who requires 24 hours support from 2 PAs is set to lose £460 simply because BA would not make a basic administrative action by changing the name on a ticket.

It was at this point that Michelle (Rachael’s senior PA) looked at the cost of Rachael having to purchase yet another ticket for the substitute PA and was shocked to discover that the price had rocketed upwards to £670.

This meant that the trip to Canada that was already in severe jeopardy was now critical and Rachael was left in a complete “Catch 22” situation – should she buy another ticket now, in case the cost increased yet further, or wait and hope that the price would fall.

When Michelle checked the cost 2 days later, the price had again increased to £780.

Rachael was now pressured into buying a ticket at £780 or risk losing everything!

This in effect meant that Rachael had lost the cost of the original ticket at a cost of £460 and now had another £780 to add to that amount.

The price comparison between what a non-disabled person would pay for the same flight to Canada is nothing short of perverse.

Non-disabled customer of BA                                           £460

Rachael who requires support of 2 PAs                          £2,160

So, despite already having to pay 3 times the amount of a non-disabled person for the same flight, Rachael is to be further penalised simply because one of her PAs left her and BA refuse to undertake a simple name change on a flight ticket.

Rachael was once an advisor to the Disability Rights Commission and has now helped to advise the Scottish Government and will always fight discrimination against disabled people in all of its forms.

She now believes that BA has made no “reasonable adjustment” for her as a disabled person and is currently investigating the possibility of a test court case to decide on whether or not BA is being discriminatory in be so inflexible with its strict adherence to a policy that can so negatively impact upon disabled customers who require support to enable them to travel.

One week after I posted on the Facebook British Airways Complaints page, my post about Rachael’s treatment by BA had been shared almost 8,000 times.

AviRate is a company that monitors everything related to airlines throughout the world and rate them for safety and quality.  When they read of Rachael’s experience at the hands of British Airways, they downrated BA for quality to a one star carrier and overall if BA lose further points, they will be downgraded from a 3-star to a 2-star carrier.

The supportive messages for Rachael have really helped cheer her up a bit but they have also strengthened her resolve to have this presented in a court for a final judgement.

With the support of the press, we contacted the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) regarding Rachael and her problems with BA.

The CEO of EHRC stated that it would seem that in Rachael’s case BA has made no attempt at a “reasonable adjustment” under the terms of the Equality Act 2010 and would like to see her take this forward for a decision in court.

Offers of help for Rachael have poured in via many electronic routes and many of those offers will be extremely useful as Rachael moves towards a definitive court decision on this matter.

Apparently, this is much bigger than just British Airways as all of the major airlines employ an identically inflexible policy and therefore the numbers of disabled people involved world-wide will be quite significant.

Of course, this would also mean that Rachael is not taking on just BA but all of the major carriers.

This does not faze Rachael in any way as she has fought and won numerous battles over the years against discrimination in all its pernicious forms.

Even if Rachael can manage to come to an agreed settlement with BA, she will still be pressing forward for this to apply to all of her disabled peers.

Finally, Rachael wishes to let all of the people who have wished her well, supported her and offered other assistance, know that she is extremely grateful for everyone’s interest and any actions that they can take to spread this information throughout the world.

Alex and Rachael have the support and best wishes of Same Difference in their battle with British Airways.

One Comment leave one →
  1. Facebook user permalink
    March 26, 2018 12:01 pm

    The personal assistant did not betray anyone. She did not just leave without a thought or a care in the world, she was taking advice from her GP as she was unwell with severe anxiety. It is apparent to me from observing comments and references to her on social media that she has not been supported and I know she was passionate about her job but your health and well being has to come first. I am sorry that there has been so much trouble with the tickets and I hope it’s resolved however the employee is not to blame

What are you thinking?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: