October 12, 2005.
The Independent (UK).
Ryanair, the no-frills airline, is under fire from disability campaigners for ejecting nine blind and partially sighted passengers from a plane just minutes before take-off.
The passengers, who were travelling to Italy for a walking holiday, had completed check-in procedures and were sitting on the plane at Stansted when the pilot announced they would have to vacate their seats. They were then "marched" off and escorted back to the airport lounge.
Some waited six hours for another flight while others were forced to sleep on the airport floor overnight. One of the party was so distressed by the incident - to be featured on BBC's Watchdog programme next week - she abandoned her holiday.
"It was dreadful. You felt like a criminal. We were all devastated," one of the blind passengers, Beryl Barton, from Norwich, said. "Five minutes before take-off the pilot asked: 'Are many of you blind?' and we said: 'Yes, one or two' and he said: 'We have already got disabled people on the flight and you will have to get off'. They marched us through to the lounge and this lady came and she said: 'Of course, you got off of your own accord' and we shouted: 'No, we haven't."
There was no safety justification, she insisted: "We can all walk. We've all got a partially-sighted or sighted guide. We could get off as quickly as anyone else."
Ryanair explained it could not take the customers because it already had three "disabled" people on board (unconnected to the party) and it stipulates no more than four "disabled" people on each flight. However, the organiser of the trip, Katherine Hurst said she rang Ryanair eight months before she travelled to check there would be no problems. She said: "The pilot said: 'How would you manage if the cabin was full of smoke' but it wouldn't make any difference. They are used to not seeing."
Ryanair, whose chief executive is Michael O'Leary, has a controversial record on disabled people. Last year, it lost a case brought by a disabled man who was charged £18 for the use of a wheelchair. Afterwards it said that it would have to raise ticket prices as a result.
The Royal National Institute for the Blind has received eight complaints about Ryanair, an unusually high number about one company. In one case, it is considering legal action. Jane Vernon, its legal officer, said: "I think Ryanair's whole attitude towards disabled people is disgraceful. Saying on their website they are charging an extra 50p per ticket to pay for wheelchairs for disabled people is despicable."
Ryanair insisted its policy on disabled passengers was "clearly highlighted" on its website and did not know of the RNIB's cases. It said it had "repeatedly apologised" to the passengers removed from the plane.
* Bob Ross took on Ryanair over being charged £18 for the use of a wheelchair at Stansted in March 2002. When Mr Ross, a cerebral palsy sufferer, won the case , Ryanair was quick to appeal, saying a 50p surcharge on all tickets would be levied to cover the cost of providing wheelchairs. They lost the appeal.
* In March this year, Ryanair was fined £24,000 for misleading customers about the price of flights from Stansted.
* This year, the airline, which charges employees for uniforms, announced that mobile phones must not be charged at work.
* An advert launched just after the London bombings featured Winston Churchill saying: "We shall fly them to the beaches ... we shall fly them to London" It drew 319 complaints, but was deemed "suitably respectful" by the Advertising Standards Authority
Watchdog is on BBC1 on Tuesday at 7pm.
Source URL: http://news.independent.co.uk/uk/this_britain/article319157.ece
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