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Airlines continue to handle damaged wheelchair payouts badly

BA and a number of other airlines have been criticised for their treatment of disabled passengers and damage to their wheelchairs. It seems to stem from one particular incident where female actor Athena Stevens who commenced legal action against BA after alleged damage to her wheelchair.

Now the equality watchdog is involved and Chris Holmes, the disability commissioner on the Equality and Human Rights Commission and a highly successful Paralympic athlete. This particular incident occurred when Athena was making a trip for work to Glasgow flying out of London City airport with BA when her wheelchair was damaged. The chair is said to have a value of £25,000 but was not insured so she is wanting compensation from either BA or the City Airport itself.

However it's understood neither the airline nor the airport have admitted liability for the damage although BA have stated to the Guardian newspaper they they are looking to resolve things with Mrs Stevens. BA went on to state that they do cater for the needs of the disabled and treat their needs very seriously.

During the enquiry, Mr Holmes has questioned BA, the official airline of both Team GB for the Olympics and the national Paralympic team in Rio de Janeiro this summer, whether they would treat athletes in the same way as they did other disabled customers. He also pointed out that many disabled folk are reluctant to fly for these reasons, knowing that they and their wheelchairs may not be looked after in the way they would like to see.

In the case of Athena Stevens, Holmes pointed out “She has been left without a replacement chair for eight months. We’re not talking about a suitcase or a set of golf clubs – this is a person’s mobility and independence.

“Considering that BA is a main sponsor of Team GB, I think it’s fair to ask whether this practice would equally apply to competing athletes, and if so, whether the Paralympic team been made aware that British Airways will not cover the full cost if their equipment is damaged.”

In the meanwhile, The UK’s Civil Aviation Authority publicly warns people with disabilities that amounts paid for damaged equipment “may be limited to around £1,300” which clearly doesn't cover many manual and all electric wheelchairs.

In defense BA stated “More than 426,000 people with reduced mobility traveled with us last year and we take their needs extremely seriously.

“We always take great care when transporting wheelchairs. However, there are rare occasions when damage occurs,” the airline said.

“In those circumstances when we are responsible, we pay compensation to the value of the damage caused over and above the limits of the Montreal agreement.

“We are speaking with Ms Stevens and her legal representatives to reach a suitable resolution.”
London City airport said: “We have been in communication with Ms Stevens from the outset and the airport has made every effort to assist her in resolving this situation. We are awaiting a response. Because this is a legal matter we are unable to provide further comment.”

The British Paralympic Association said: “We’re pleased that BA have made the commitment to Paralympics GB and are confident they are making great plans to ensure our Paralympic athletes are given a world class service.”

“Considering that BA is a main sponsor of Team GB, I think it’s fair to ask whether this practice would equally apply to competing athletes, and if so, whether the Paralympic team been made aware that British Airways will not cover the full cost if their equipment is damaged.”

Lets hope this case in point brings some realistic review of the legislation and that it is resolved satisfactorily and Mrs Stevens has a replacement wheelchair very soon.

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