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Heathrow loses a BBC wheelchair

Perhaps there will be a bit more focus on the plight of wheelchairs that are lost or damaged while in the charge of airlines now that it has happened to a BBC correspondent.

Frank Gardner the security correspondent for the BBC was left on a plane for 90 minutes yesterday while the airport staff scurried about to find Mr gardeners wheelchair.

Mr Gardner who flew in from Addis Ababa has needed a wheelchair since he was shot six times in the legs during an al-Qaeda gun attack in Saudi Arabia in 2004 which left both his legs partially paralysed.

In a tweet sent by Mr Gardner he made it clear that the problem of missing wheelchairs always occurs at London’s Heathrow airport and generally speaking nowhere else. Frank wrote: “Odd that I can travel round the Middle East and elsewhere without a hitch. Yet time and again @HeathrowAirport loses my wheelchair on arrival. Now been on an empty plane 1.5 hours after landing. “Believe me, I’m as bored of writing this as you are of reading it.

“Just when is the UK’s premier airport going to stop treating disabled passengers this way?”

Later, he tweeted: “Finally got off the plane exactly 100 mins after landing. I’ve had better treatment in Djibouti.”

It seems that it is a decision by the cabin crew that dictates whether the wheelchair can enter the cabin for the flight or whether it needs to be kept in the hold for the duration of the flight. Mr Gardner adds that during long haul flights he generally has his wheelchair on the cabin whereas it is the shorter flights that seem to lead to the loss of the wheelchair once it has been placed in the hold along with instructions to bring it up to door on arrival which he sys is frequently ignored by the crew.

On this occasion the wheelchair was whisked off to the baggage reclaim area which was of course no use as he couldn’t get there. Mr Gardner makes it very clear that any fuss is not about him but moreso the bigger picture which seems to point to general lack of respect for the disabled fraternity.

The BBC correspondent later told Radio 4’s Today programme: “I’m not making this fuss about this for me. I’m doing this because there are hundreds, possibly thousands of others who suffer the same experience.

“All we get are these platitudes from Heathrow airport.

“Nothing changes, it goes on and on happening.

“If you can’t walk and your wheelchair has been taken into the terminal, that is your legs gone, that is your mobility gone. It’s a basic human right.”

A spokesperson for Heathrow said: “We apologise unreservedly if the service Mr Gardner received today fell short of the experience we aim to provide to our passengers.

“We are working with the responsible airline to investigate what went wrong in this case.”

The official line is The Civil Aviation Authority stipulates: “On arrival, your wheelchair or mobility aid should be returned to you at the arrival gate, unless there are extenuating reasons.”

Just o show that Heathrwow isn’t the only offending airport Mr Gardner had a similar experience recently at London Gatwick after special assistance failed to turn up to meet the flight.

Let’s hope something positive is taken from this to minimize the loss of any wheelchair in the near future.