There are times in life where you see a massive difference in the way two similar organisations approach a situation. Last week I had an experience which both angers me, and saddens me, at the same time. The contrast was stark.
People with disabilities travel. We use cars, trains, boats, buses and airplanes to help manage our lives. Sometimes it is out of necessity, and there are times it is a pleasure, but for people with a disease which makes travel difficult it can be a source of anxiety.
Travel costs me physically, and I try to make it as easy as possible, and for my trip to Amsterdam in the Netherlands I requested PRM (People of Reduced Mobility) services in both airports. Given my state of health when booking the flight I said I needed help to get around the airport, in a wheelchair, but I could climb the stairs to the aircraft, even if it was slow. The contrast I experienced between the two services was vast in one area.
My illness has taken independence from me. In so many ways, every day, I depend on the help of others. It can be a small thing such as getting a glass of water, or much bigger when someone drives me to an appointment. I need the help of others. This help can be provided respectfully, or they ignore completely respect.
Dublin Airport respects the individual.
Let me explain the contrast between the two services.
When you arrive through the doors of Dublin Airport, they locate the disability services beside the door, very easy to access, with seats available to sit. When you introduce yourself they check your details and then ask what type of service you need, not what you booked. This acknowledges the fact disability can change, especially with MS.
In contrast to get to the PRM desk in Amsterdam I had to navigate through the airport to the very back of the main concourse. This required that I thread my way through the labyrinths of check-in desks, luggage, trolleys, and active and distracted people. The desk was hidden at the back, away from everyone. I wonder at the symbolism of this. Do they really want us?
When the person who would bring us through security came to me, they addressed me directly and asked what would we like to do? Have a coffee, lunch, do some duty free shopping? This permitted me to actually enjoy the airport, see what it offers, and perhaps purchase something, on impulse, along the way. How very human.
They treated me like a parcel in Schiphol Airport. Sit in one holding area, then transfer to another (still landside) after checking in my bag. Wait for the next person to bring me through security, and deposited at another holding area, well away from shops, toilets, or even coffee. Wait there and then transferred to the departure gate, and I had to ask to be brought to the toilet which was reluctantly given.
Back in Dublin they had brought me to a restaurant, and I had something to eat and a coffee. We were told when someone would come to collect us, and when they arrived they asked if we needed anything, toilet, for example. How nice to be treated this manner, with a nice friendly chat along the way. When we got to the gate they asked me again, could I take the stairs, or would I need to be brought up, and I asked for help to use the stairs, I could walk to my seat then. They then used a lift to bring me onto the airplane.
The situation was different in Amsterdam. On the return journey at the gate they finally asked me to stand up, take a lift down to the ground floor and stand waiting for the plane. I informed them then I could not do this. I had walked into the airport, but this used the last of any energy I had. The tank was dry. My head pain had reached an 8/10 and even walking to my seat would be a problem.
The people then informed me they would have to break with the procedure to get me on the airplane. Using a lift (elevator) with me in a wheelchair was against protocol, and then they would arrange for me to be brought onto the airplane with a wheelchair to my seat. I was told several times this wasn’t really allowed, because I had requested one type of service, and now needed something more, and this isn’t really permitted.
In the future, I should book the worst-case scenario.
I am not sure how I should take this? The system in this airport (Amsterdam) is very rigid and cannot cope with changes. Therefor I must book, and possibly waste, something which I may/may not need. In the Irish airport they have the flexibility in their system to put the patient first, and not the system. The Dutch, for all their efficiency, made me feel like a box, to be shunted from place to place. Inanimate, inconvenient and excluded.
Dublin is much more friendly, sees the person, not the chair. Over the last few years as my mobility has worsened I have been to several airports, and every time Dublin sets the benchmark for others to follow. PRM can be done, respectfully.