Disabled woman urges airport improvements after 'humiliating' boarding at Newcastle and Heathrow

Suzanna waiting in the departure lounge after delays. Credit: Muscular Dystrophy UK

A disabled woman has called for urgent action after enduring 'humiliating' airport experiences.

Suzanne Croft, who is from Addlestone in Surrey and has muscular dystrophy, was about to fly from Newcastle to Heathrow on Thursday 9 June, when she says she was informed of a delay.

People who are legally entitled to special assistance typically board before other passengers in order to avoid embarrassment.

But on this occasion other passengers were boarded first. After around an hour, Ms Croft said, she was eventually assisted to her seat in front of everyone else.

“I felt so embarrassed and it has left me quite traumatised,” said Ms Croft. “The rest of the passengers had already been boarded so long they had been given snacks and water -- and didn’t look happy.  

"As a wheelchair user, it was so humiliating to be loaded onto the plane and into my seat in front of everyone. I felt so upset and guilty to be the cause of a one-hour delay in departure – as well as the knock-on delays on the following flights."

Suzanne’s condition, Limb Girdle Muscular Dystrophy, type R2, effects the muscles of the shoulder and pelvic girdle. Credit: Muscular Dystrophy UK

Upon arrival at Heathrow, she then describes having to be lifted and helped off the plane by her husband and the crew of the next flight after she claims special services failed to arrive, with passengers waiting at the gate ready to board.

“In the end my husband, who is 66, had to lift me out of the seat, assisted by the new crew, and they had to place me in a folding aisle chair which had no seat belts. My husband held my legs in while a kind crew member of the next flight pushed me to the arrival lounge. It’s not the waiting – I’m used to that. It’s the indignity and humiliation.

"It’s just not good enough. I don’t want to get the cabin crew and the captain into trouble – they were so helpful and kind– the captain even carried our luggage to the taxi.

"And I know the special assistance people are doing the best job they can. There’s just not enough special assistance staff and equipment – that’s the problem."

"There needs to be prompt immediate action from airports to prevent further tragedies. Apologies aren’t enough.

"The way I feel at the moment, I don’t ever want to fly again."

Ms Croft's case has been taken up by the charity Muscular Dystrophy UK, which claims it is among a spate of similar alleged incidents in which disabled people have been left on flights.

In a statement, Newcastle Airport said the delay to the flight that day was not due to any lack of staffing or equipment and it is "sorry" that boarding in front of other passengers caused embarrassment to her.

"We would like to reassure passengers with reduced mobility that  - year to date  - the Assistance Team has handled over 10,000 passengers and feedback on the service provided - has been extremely positive."

Speaking to ITV Tyne Tees, Suzanne stressed that the assistance staff were "extremely helpful".

A Heathrow spokesperson said: "We are very sorry for the delay Ms Croft experienced last week and we are investigating the incident.

"All organisations across the airport are getting ready to meet the strong summer demand and are working hard to ensure everyone travelling through the airport can enjoy a smooth passenger experience."

Want a quick and expert briefing on the biggest news stories? Listen to our latest podcasts to find out What You Need To Know...