Wheelchair passenger concern

I was one of a group of five relatives who took a tour of Ireland and then drove around Italy in July ’04. Our flights were on Aer Lingus as well as British Air, but to get from Dublin to Venice we had to go through London, with the leg from London’s Heathrow airport to Venice on British Midland Airways.

When we arrived at Heathrow on July 21, an attendant with a wheelchair was waiting for my mother to race her through the line for boarding passes. This was the last we saw of her until the flight was boarding.

The other four of us waited in a long line for our boarding passes from British Midland. (We were behind people checking luggage, even though in Dublin we had checked our luggage through to Venice.)

Meanwhile, the attendant had taken my mother to the British Midland area for handicapped passengers and left her there. The woman from British Midland who was “in charge” was very rude. My mother asked her twice when an attendant was coming to take her to the exit gate. The woman snapped at her, “Sit down and be quiet!” She asked to use the rest room and the woman pointed and said, “Behind Burger King!” My mother managed to walk that distance, but other people with mobility problems could never have managed.

Meanwhile, the rest of us had arrived at the exit gate and were upset not to see my mother anywhere. I searched all the passenger areas (planning to carry her hand luggage and assist her to the exit gate) but didn’t find her because the handicapped area is hidden away.

We decided that we wouldn’t board the flight without her. People began boarding. The clerk at the exit gate said that she was “on her way.” As they were calling final boarding, the wheelchair with my mother appeared.

For the record, when I travel with my mother, who indeed is mentally fit, I often let an airport attendant with a wheelchair take her. These attendants usually race and can use special lanes, hallways and elevators, while I would rather shuffle along at my own speed. Usually she is taken directly to the exit gate without stopping anywhere.

On our way back on July 27, transiting through Gatwick instead of Heathrow, we were scared of a repeat of the events of the 21st, so we refused a wheelchair and made slow progress to the exit gate.

I have some suggestions for British Midland:

• Have a separate line for people checking in without luggage.

• Employ better staff at the desk for handicapped passengers.

• Take handicapped passengers to the exit gate before the final boarding call.

Burlingame, CA

ITN sent a copy of the above letter to British Midland Airways and received no reply.