A trip abroad with Gina G.

An account.
Sit down.
This takes a while.

I booked the flights a while ago.

I added the airport ‘ special assistance’. That means detailing my wheelchair and the power attachment, whether I can walk down the aisle of the plane or if I need an aisle chair to get me from the door of the plane to my seat; whether or not I have someone with me that is able to help me in the event the plane is going to crash. Tbh in the event the plane crashes and I’m still alive , I have absolutely zero chance of getting from my seat to the outside.

What if I was the only survivor of the catastrophic impact but then paralysis meant I couldn’t escape? That would be quite funny.

I booked the train tickets.
I booked the Passenger Assist via the app. That mean they know I’m going to board a certain train from a certain station and I need a person to get a ramp so that I can get on the train, and also at which station stop I’m getting off… requiring a person to know which carriage I’m in and to get a ramp so that I may get off.

It’s the day before I travel and I get a phone call from Passenger Assist. One of the lifts at Clapham Junction isn’t working. Whilst I can get to Clapham and leave the station, I can’t change trains there and go to Gatwick airport because the lift to platform 13 is broken. The lady on the phone tells me I have to exit the station and get into a taxi ( at their expense ) and travel to Croydon East station ( around 9 miles ). Once there I can get a train from Croydon E to Gatwick airport. The lady knows I’m in a wheelchair. I go through it with her though. I’m in a wheelchair and I can’t get out of it, so I need a wheelchair taxi that has a ramp or a lift to get me inside it. Absolutely she says, that’s what the taxi company will send. All very professional and reassuring….

We arrange to get an earlier train ( an hour earlier ) so that I have plenty of time to get to the airport on time.

All good then.

Today we left my home at 11.30. The 11.54 train arrived at Brentford station. The guard gets off the train. He has no idea there’s a bloke In a wheelchair that needs a ramp. Now that bit is sadly normal. No one has ever had any idea at Brentford station, in all the years I’ve used it. However they do get the ramps always and I always get on the train.
We travel to Clapham Junction. In CJ they have always checked the Passenger Assist list and someone always gets me off.
I know I have to exit the station on the south side and that’s where the taxi will collect me. I was told the driver will definitely call me ( as he/ she will have my mobile number ).

This is where it all starts to go tits up.
I leave the station via 2 lifts and go outside and wait in the car park. It’s raining. I look at every van/ minivan type vehicle in the vicinity. There is no indication that any of them are for me. After 25 minutes I am doubting I’ll get to Gatwick. I call Passenger Assist. They have no record of my booking. I tell them that oh yes they do, because they themselves made the altered version that Included the taxi transfer. After the reservation number, my name, my phone number and 5 minutes of being on hold they located their own booking. All good then, and in fact the driver had been waiting there for me for some time….
Ok I said, what’s the registration number of the taxi. They gave it to me. I had another search and told them there definitely wasn’t a taxi waiting with that registration plate for me. Don’t worry I was told, he’ll call you and be there.

Another 10 minutes pass. It’s still raining.
No taxi comes.

Gina goes back into the station to ask the Assistance people what’s going on. I wait outside in the rain.

While she’s gone I get a call from the driver. He said he’s been waiting for a while. I asked why he hadn’t called me. He said he wasn’t given my phone number.
I asked if he was in Grant Rd, as arranged? He said no, he was at the opposite side of the station.
I asked him to drive to the Grant Rd side. He said he’d be a few minutes.

Another 5 minutes went by. Gina had come back and said ‘ the assistance person in the station said the lift to platform 13 is working fine? But he’s clearly ‘ special needs’ himself so I don’t know whether to believe him. ‘

Seriously I said? Well the taxi van is about to arrive so I think I’ll trust that more….

Hallelujah, the taxi van indeed drew up. The driver opened the side door. I looked inside and it appeared to be full of seats, rather than have a space for a wheelchair. Can you get the ramp, G asked. The driver looked blank. I don’t have a ramp, he says and gestured for me to climb in and sit down.

I said… I’m in a wheelchair because I’m paralysed and can’t move my legs…. let alone climb into a high up taxi van. Is this not a wheelchair accessible taxi, as booked by Passenger Assist the day before?

Well they just told me to pick you up in a van, they didn’t mention anything about wheelchairs…he said ( in broken English )

Clearly at this point I’m very f’d off indeed and very much assuming I won’t get to Gatwick.
There IS the option of me going by road in my chair to Croydon East. It’s 9 miles and it’s the very worst of South London. I’ve tried that before. There are traffic lights every 50 bloody metres and a junction every 25 metres. It’s INCREDIBLY slow going.
And it’s raining.

Well let’s go back into the station and see if the lift to Platform 13 IS working, says Gina.
In we go, me swearing profusely to myself at how fallible the Passenger Assist system is. Occasionally it works well ( as in the staff are expecting me and know my name as I arrive, know what time train I’m on and know where I’m getting off )

No one in either Brentford or Kew Gardens has ever been expecting me. I turn up, say I’ve booked assistance and there is a blank look. Brentford isn’t even a manned station, so the Guard on the train is the one that should know.
Thats never happened.

When I say what I need, to staff, it nearly always works. However I never ever trust it.

In principle, the station knows I’m coming and for what train. Well often they have no clue. For them to expect me, someone has to have the role of reading the assist emails. Since staff work shifts …. then someone on every shift needs to have that duty. Well clearly that’s not important to some stations, whilst others take it very seriously. Some stations are completely organised and in some stations they just wing it. The person in charge of the station is responsible for their staff being given that duty.
Some stations do it properly, some don’t do it at all.

Christ, we haven’t even got to the airport yet.

To be continued 🤦‍♂️

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