Booked wheelchair service at Copenhagen airport

By Cynthia Tarnoff
This item appears on page 26 of the May 2019 issue.

My husband, Norman, and I and a friend of ours were on our way to take a cruise from Copenhagen, Denmark, through the Baltic area on the Norwegian Cruise Line ship Breakaway. We began our trip on May 9, 2018, by flying from New Orleans to Chicago on United Airlines and from Chicago to Copenhagen on SAS Scandinavian Airlines (in a code-share with United). On May 20, we would also fly back on SAS from Copenhagen.

Through our travel agent, JoAnn Nelson of The Travel Professionals (McComb, MS; 601/684-7111,, we had prearranged for wheelchair assistance for Norman, who has had three knee replacements. He can walk slowly, but we have found that when negotiating a large airport or trying to make a connecting flight quickly, a wheelchair is a big help.

The wheelchair assistance was prearranged at both the Chicago airport and the Copenhagen airport on our trip over to Europe and at the Copenhagen airport and the Washington, DC, airport on our way back.

Our travel agent had called United Airlines directly and made all of the special-service requests (the cruise line had booked our air tickets), and the wheelchair reservations were, indeed, shown in the computer each time we checked in for a flight.

After we took the plane from Chicago and disembarked at Copenhagen International Airport, a representative looked at my husband and indicated to him that he was able to walk up the gate ramp to the golf carts. We did so, and the three of us sat on one of the five carts.

The representative then said that only those passengers with wheelchair reservations could ride on the cart. My friend and I would have to walk to the passport control area, after which we all would pick up our baggage and exit the airport. So as not to get separated from Norman, my friend and I stood by his cart.

The representative made phone calls, looked at papers, talked to the other cart drivers and kept asking for names. She noticed that my friend and I had put our carry-on bags on the cart with Norman and his bags. We were told to take our carry-ons off.

As time passed, only a couple more passengers arrived, but none of the carts moved. We were really confused. Some passengers had a cruise ship leaving in two hours. We begged the representative to take those people first, saying we would wait. Her answer to us was, “I’m trying to make you happy.”

When this caravan of mostly empty carts finally started to leave, a kind driver of an empty cart told me to get on. He took off with me in the opposite direction from Norman’s cart (on which I noticed my friend was now riding) and dropped me off at passport control.

As I handed my passport to the official, I realized that I also had my husband’s passport, but they would not let me go back past the line. After 10 minutes, I finally saw Norman. I had to scream for him to understand, and I threw his passport to one of the cart drivers. We were the last few people through passport control.

The next stop was a closet to get wheelchairs out, which took phone calls and paperwork. New people came to push all three of us in wheelchairs to the baggage claim area. When my friend and I learned it was a short walk, we just walked alongside my husband in his chair.

This disorganized journey from plane to baggage claim took us two hours.

After our cruise, we returned to the Copenhagen airport to check in for our flight home. Norman was promptly put in a wheelchair and taken through Immigration. My friend and I accompanied him at first, but he was wheeled on ahead and we rejoined him later, making our way to the Travel Assistance Center.

The man who had pushed Norman’s wheelchair handed a piece of paper to a lady in an office there, and she typed the information into the computer. We were told not to leave the area and that we would be picked up at 11 a.m. It was now 9:00.

If Norman wanted to go to the bathroom or get something to eat, he had to go to the desk and sign out and then sign back in with a special piece of paper. The three of us left for a few minutes to buy a snack and followed the protocol of signing out and back in.

In the Travel Assistance Center, the representative was on the phone or computer and constantly handling papers and asking for names over and over again. At 11:00, there was no cart.

At 11:30, we saw the same man who had wheeled Norman to the center, so we asked him to take Norman to the gate. He said that the airlines contract the wheelchair service to the Travel Assistance Center only and that the cart service is a separate business.

There were five empty golf carts sitting there with no drivers. I asked the man to find out when the cart was leaving for the gate, as our flight was leaving at 12:20 and we were running out of time. He talked to the desk agent, then came back and told my friend and me to run to the departure gate and beg them to hold the plane.

We took off, and I looked back and saw Norman walking slowly. Then we hit passport control, where there were hundreds of people. We were so stressed out thinking we were going to miss our flight.

My friend and I made it to our gate and begged them to wait for my husband, since the airline had not provided his wheelchair service to the gate. We were the last three people on that plane, and it took off within seconds of our getting in our seats.

So here is my advice if you need wheelchair service at the Copenhagen airport. If you can walk slowly, do so. If you must use their service, then plan on its taking many hours.


Saltillo, MS

ITN twice emailed a copy of Ms. Tarnoff’s account to United Airlines and received no response. Emails to a representative of Copenhagen International Airport received a promise of an official response, but none followed.