Continental Airlines should also know this. Not that they read my LJ of course, but Dom is indeed in their computer system as having special requirements. You'd think this would make a difference when, for example, our flight plan would require going by bus from one terminal at Newark-Liberty (in New Jersey, by the way, but serving New York). Or getting into an airplane that isn't connected to a boarding ramp.
I could explain the comedy of errors that commenced nearly the second we got off the airplane from Houston, but I'm just going to post the letter I sent to Continental Customer Service about it. I swear I'm not making any of this up.
Dear Customer Care Representative:
I am writing this on behalf of my disabled husband (I'll just call him 'Dom' here), to relate our experiences flying from Newark-Liberty International Airport to the P.E. Trudeau International Airport (YUL) in Montreal on May 19, 2009.
We have been long time customers of Continental. Indeed, it is our first choice of airline whenever we travel, very much because of the level of customer care we have come to expect. What we were forced to deal with at Newark-Liberty, therefore, was that much more disconcerting.
We arrived from Houston. Once in Newark-Liberty, we knew we would have to go from Terminal C where we landed to Terminal A, where the ERJ 145 aircraft (CO3058E) was waiting. My husband has Spinal Muscular Atrophy, a degenerative disease of the nervous system that makes climbing stairs all but impossible (he is in fact registered with Continental as having special needs). With this in mind, we asked the Continental gate attendant about how to get to gate 31 at Terminal A, explaining in no uncertain terms that Dom couldn't climb steps. She told us that there was a bus with a ramp, so it wouldn't be a problem.
The bus indeed had a ramp, though it was broken. I had to help the driver manually raise and lower it so my husband could get on and off. However, once we arrived at gate 31, we were suddenly told that since we actually had to go to gate 31R, there was another bus we had to take, this one with three steps. The gate attendant in Terminal C had neither warned us of this, nor even thought to ask if gate 31 was our final destination. And we didn't know what to expect ourselves since we hadn't been to Newark-Liberty before.
I firmly believe that we would have been stuck between the two busses until we missed our flight if I hadn't made a fuss. There were several airport employees there, but they all seemed unable or unwilling to help. Finally one woman told the driver of the first bus to take us to the new gate.
Once we finally arrived at gate 31R, it was to find out that we were required to climb stairs to enter both the terminal and the ERJ 145 aircraft we would be taking. The ground staff had Dom enter a mechanical lift to get him to the top of the stairs, but it broke while he was still a foot lower than the platform. He was asked if he could step up himself, which of course he can't because of his disability. He was stuck in midair in the cold wind for a good twenty minutes while the ground crew tried to fix the problem, which they could not.
Because they couldn't get my husband into the terminal, they decided to just put him on the plane. And now the level of disaster became almost farcical, because no one—not one single person—of the ground crew had the faintest idea how to use the mechanical lift meant to get him into the plane. Dom was informed that they were never trained how to use them. They were further completely helpless to figure it out. In the end Dom himself had to tell the ground crew what to do.
Even then, once they finally had him in the air, no one knew how to move the ramp close enough to the airplane door so my husband could actually get on. Remarkably, one of the ground crew asked him if he could jump across the three feet of space between the ramp and the plane, a ridiculous and dangerous request even if it weren't obvious that such a thing was impossible for Dom to do. Luckily someone successfully guessed how to push the lift forward, and my husband was at last able to get on the plane. At this point it was at least 20 minutes past the marked departure time, and more than 40 minutes since we arrived at the gate.
I need to add that the entire time I was waiting with our son for Dom to be put on the plane, no one voluntarily offered me any information as to what was going on. For example: at one point a group of people who had been initially ushered towards flight CO3058E to Montreal were detoured to a different plane. I naturally was concerned that the airplane had been changed and the ground crew were now trying to get my husband on the wrong one. No one thought to tell me that the group of clients were actually going to Detroit, and had been ushered to the wrong plane in the first place. (There was a constant lack of communication between the gate attendants and the ground crew.)
While this was happening, it seemed that the priority of the gate attendant with whom I spoke most often was to tell me repeatedly how the ground crew were actually employees of a different airline, and therefore Continental wasn't responsible for their ignorance. She further told me to keep my son off the tarmac because Continental would be liable if he got hurt. I was aware of this, but found the gate attendant's emphasis on liability rather than my son's safety upsetting, to say the least. She seemed to be exclusively interested in Continental's well-being, rather than Dom's, our son's, or mine.
My husband had a similar experience with the air hostess for our flight. When she found out that a second passenger was arriving who also needed the mechanical lift, her response was, 'another one?', as if she were dealing with annoyances rather than people. I'm sure you can imagine how hurtful that comment was, regardless of how innocently meant.
The air hostess' attitude exemplifies our experience at Newark-Liberty. I'm also wondering how it was possible that neither the ground crew nor the flight crew were told that two passengers were coming who needed extra help. Further, much as I understand that Continental is renting space at Terminal A from a different airline, I'm sure you will nonetheless agree that Continental is still responsible to make sure that the ground crew are adequately trained to help Continental's clients.
In conclusion, the treatment Dominique Lord (and by extension, myself and our son) received at Newark-Liberty was appalling. I was told a report would be filed on Dom's behalf, but was compelled to write my own letter to make pellucid the full extent of this fiasco. Dom, and all your disabled clients, deserve much better than this. I anticipate your assurance that no one will have to go through this again.