Thomas Cook has apologized to Jolene Duggleby, whose holiday in Turkey was “ruined” after the treatment at Dalaman Airport
A wheelchair user felt “vulnerable, humiliated and traumatized” after blundering Thomas Cook staff left her sobbing on a plane floor.
Jolene Duggleby, 23, had to attempt to crawl down the aisle as airline staff damaged her wheelchair.
Her holiday in Turkey was ruined last month when employees at Dalaman Airport failed to help her properly onto the plane, Chronicle Live reports.
Jolene, who has relied on a wheelchair all her life and cannot walk, was given boarding cards and tags indicating she needed special assistance – but when she approached Thomas Cook reps, she says no information was provided.
One member of airline staff eventually tried to pick the tourist up by her legs, causing her huge pain, after a chair was provided on the plane.
When the plane touched down at Newcastle Airport, Jolene spotted her wheelchair being “left outside in the pouring rain” and then being “thrown” onto a trolley with suitcases on top of it.
The council worker, of Trimdon, County Durham, became “upset and emotional” as she argued with a member of plane staff over whether her wheelchair could be brought to the entrance of the plane for her to travel through the airport in. With no sign of anyone to help her off the plane, she says she became desperate to get out.
“I was able to shuffle on my bottom to the front of the plane, when the [staff member] physically stood in my way and would not let me pass, standing over me, as I was sat on the floor of the plane. She then began to shout, which progressed to screaming at me, that I could not exit the plane in this manner as it was against health and safety regulations,” Jolene said.
“I became very distressed and upset and requested that she stop shouting at me. She shouted that ‘she was not shouting at me’, whilst still towering over me.
“By this point I was in hysterical tears, terrified as I was being screamed at by someone using very aggressive body language.
“Whilst I was still sobbing on the floor, being stood over and shouted at, the special assistance team had arrived with a temporary chair I could use to get off the plane and through the airport.”
This wheelchair had to be pushed, unlike her own which she can operate herself, but which left her feeling “like an infant”.
And when she got to her own chair, she found it broken in several places, with the backrest unable to unfold, the brakes no longer locking and the front casters unable to turn properly.
“I left the airport feeling vulnerable, humiliated, anxious, upset and genuinely traumatised by the mistreatment I had faced,” the woman added.
Now she wants to share her experience to help other disabled passengers.
Jolene, who works for Hartlepool Council, said: “I’ve had some bad experiences when travelling but never anything as bad as this, which is why I was really shocked.
“There’s always a worry about whether your wheelchair is going to get damaged – if your luggage doesn’t arrive, yes, it’s awful, but if my wheelchair doesn’t arrive, how am I supposed to get out of the airport, how am I suppose to get to work the next day? I use it full time and if my wheelchair is damaged or broken, it’s like my legs are gone.
“No one should ever have to go through this experience again, I’m quite a confident person and I’ve had my disability all my life, but I can imagine someone who is less confident, or is new to their disability, they might not always be able to speak up about what happened. James was with me and he was really supportive, but I might have been with someone less confident, or I could have been traveling alone.
“I would ask that there is some kind of training about how to speak to passengers, and especially vulnerable passengers, and training to help staff speak up if something is wrong – one woman did apologise to me afterwards but she obviously wasn’t confident enough to intervene.”
Thomas Cook has offered Jolene £1,500 in holiday vouchers and pledged to fund the full cost of repairs or replacement for her wheelchair.
But she said that while her experience had been “disgusting” the company had communicated with her well throughout the complaint process and where trying to help as much as they could, which she said was “positive”.