HELP - Airlines Can Be A Pain!!!

Apr 18th, 2013, 01:49 PM
Original Poster
Join Date: Apr 2013
Posts: 1
HELP - Airlines Can Be A Pain!!!

Hi everyone Im very new to this forum so Im not sure where this is meant to go but please read this and hopefully if anyone has any advice or tips or since it would be much appreciated.

For the past month I have been writing to Airlines asking for advice about how I would be able to get a special ugrade from Economy Class to First class due to my disability, for my planned trip to Australia on the 21st of December 2013 until the 1st of February 2014. I have now received an email back from different airlines with an unsatisfactory response where I do not believe they have taken special consideration. Below I enclose more details on the situation:

My name is Lee Mitch and I have a severe disability called Spinal Muscular Atrophy Type 2 (SMA TYPE 2 for short). This consequently makes me electric wheelchair bound/unable to walk, and unable to do anything on my own without help, which requires me to have a carer/personal-assistant 24/7. I need 24/7 medical assistance, it is necessary for my personal assistant/ carer to be with me at all times as I can’t be left on my own. SMA Type 2 also gives me added health problems such as scoliosis (curvature of the spine). I enclose the following link that gives further information on my disability and some of the health issues it brings.

However my disability brings me a dominant disadvantage when flying. Usually for short-haul flights the longest I can sit in an economy seat is approximately an hour and that is with heavy painkillers.

On a long-haul flight however, this is a different story. For my 21st Birthday, I went to Las Vegas with British Airways Economy Class. Within an hour of the flight I was in excruciating pain, due to the seat not supporting my disability and associated health problems. The flight attendants upgraded me to First Class where I was able to lay down, adjust my position frequently, softer seating, have privacy due to personal medical issues, extra legroom and other factors of being First Class privileged passenger. On the return trip I was automatically upgraded due to my disability and the scenario which occurred before.

Traveling First Class to Australia Melbourne would accommodate all of my disability and personal needs. Unlike most passengers I will be stationed in the seat for the whole duration of the flight. I would need to be able to lie down and reposition in privacy for pressure and pain relief medical purposes. In addition to this, I would not be able to use toileting facilities; therefore, having a First Class Suite would allow me to use a discreet portable urine bottle.

I have emailed a specific letter to the following Airlines:
· British Airways Customer Relations CEO
· Emirates Customer Relations
· Qatar Customer Relations
· Air China
Asking them for special consideration in upgrading me from Economy Class to First Class, on the basis of medical grounds, as it is not my fault Economy class does not cater for my medical/disability needs.

I also enclosed a support letter from my doctor which confirms my disability and medical needs and the appropriateness of flying First Class. [I can also provide this letter to you].

The replies I have received are shown below:

· British Airways Customer Relations CEO – “While I completely understand the reason for your request, and do not underestimate the severity of your condition, I cannot arrange for you to be upgraded from World Traveller to First. We receive many requests for upgrades, and a great number very similar to you own. We have to ensure that we are fair and consistent to all of our customers, so we are unable to meet the vast majority of requests.”

· Emirates Customer Relations - Whilst I empathise with the situation, unfortunately it is not Emirates policy to offer complimentary upgrades, in fairness to those passengers who have paid the higher First class fare.”

· Qatar Customer Relations – “We regret to advise you that it is not Qatar Airways policy to offer complimentary upgrades unless it is for operational reasons only and we are sorry that we are unable to grant your request on this occasion”

· Air China – “At this stage I am sorry to say that we can only offer wheel chair assistants at the airport and to the plane. For free upgrade service I cannot say if this service will be offered and guarantee with Air China.”

I would be more than happy to forward you on the whole responses at your request.

If it wasn’t for my disability I would happily travel economy class, however, due to my condition I cannot undertake such a long journey in economy class – an inadequate provision that doesn’t cater for my disability. The only way I can make the journey is by a lie down bed style seat/cabin (see attached Doctors medical statement).

Also, I need a carer to help at all times for day to day activities – feeding, toileting etc. From a safety aspect, I cannot lift myself, reach an emergency exit unaided, unfasten a seat belt, retrieve and fit a life jacket or fit an oxygen mask etc. therefore it is essential that I will need to travel with my companion/carer/ safety assistant next to me for help to do this.

I maintain that due to no fault of my own I have to fund an upgrade to cater for my disability. I would suggest that given these unique circumstances, it is grossly unfair to have to pay for two upgrades just because of the nature of my disability.

If anyone knows of any advice or contacts of help that could help me achieve this it would be greatly appreciated. I'm not sure how the email works on here but reply to me where I can give you my email address.

Thank you for taking time to read this
BespokeMitch is offline  
Apr 18th, 2013, 03:02 PM
Join Date: Jan 2003
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While it is not your fault that you have a disability, it is not the airlines' responsibility to "cater to" or "accommodate" that disability. They are a business.

There are many people traveling in economy class who would love to be upgraded due to painful conditions they may be suffering from. The airlines can't accommodate all of them with free upgrades.

I suggest you wait to travel until you can afford the class of service you require.
bettyk is offline  
Apr 18th, 2013, 03:26 PM
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Posts: 5,643
Bettyk is right - the only way you can be assured of a Business Class or First Class seat is to purchase one.

Airlines have no obligation to give you a "free" upgrade simply because you have a medical condition.
RoamsAround is offline  
Apr 18th, 2013, 05:02 PM
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Agree with betty and Roams. If you and your caregiver must travel first class, I'm afraid your choices are to either pay for first class seats, suffer in economy, or stay home. I feel it is unreasonable to expect the airline to give both you free upgrades.
tenthumbs is offline  
Apr 18th, 2013, 06:52 PM
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As a rehab RN I am familiar with SMA - and recognize that it is a real and significant disability. In the US under the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) "reasonable accommodations" must be made for those with disabilities. A vacation to Australia does not seem to me something for which this would be reasonable.

In addition, while you have a major disability, it would open up the floodgates for those who, for a variety of physical or psychological reasons "required" a personal care attendant or other accompanying person and/or "required" a first class seat for everything from anxiety to knee pain and up from there. Who gets to decide if the disability is serious enough to require what accommodations? It might also include those who are tall or wide as requiring a larger first class seat.

And while your disability is visible, airlines rarely recognize an MD letter for much of anything (including special passes thru security) since you or I could create a very authentic appearing letter on any computer in about 5 minutes.

Truly not trying to sound non-empathetic to your situation; just practical.
gail is offline  
Apr 19th, 2013, 02:49 PM
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And are you expecting a free upgrade for your companion/aid as well? Are you planning on buying 2 economy tickets and wanting you both to be upgraded to First class?

If this trip isn't a necessity; I too think you should either find funding for the purchase of the tickets or wait until such time as you do have funding.

" In the US under the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) "reasonable accommodations" must be made for those with disabilities.

I *think* the OP is not from US, not that this makes too much difference in this situation.
DebitNM is offline  
Apr 19th, 2013, 06:20 PM
Join Date: Oct 2009
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First class seats are not the ants pants. They are still uncomfortable after a long flight. Hell yeah they are better than economy but even the fully flat lie down beds are uncomfortable.

Getting an upgrade is not easy. If you want a guaranteed premium seat you need to pay for it. Just after 9/11 I flew from Sydney to LA and on the plane were "specialist dogs" and their handlers going to help. They were all sitting in economy, with the dogs squished at their feet. Even they were not given an upgrade. I thought if those people can't get an upgrade then nobody can.
MissGreen is offline  
Apr 19th, 2013, 06:25 PM
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Mitch, where are you flying from to Australia? What has made you choose Australia? We're so far away from everything. I hate the long flights from here to get to anywhere good.
MissGreen is offline  
Apr 19th, 2013, 07:43 PM
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As an international flight attendant with a US airline, I cannot even imagine why you would undertake this trip if it wasn't an emergency. The trip length for even a healthy person without disabilities is ungodly-15 hours plus from LAX!

I hope that you will take this in the right context but everyday the airlines have folks that have various disabilities and demand free upgrades both from the gate agent and flight attendants. You really cannot expect a free upgrade when there are folks spending $5,000-$10,000 for just business class.(First class is a ridiculous price to be asking for two free seats!)

Most business class seats are completely lie down/flat beds-have you thought of purchasing one of those at the lesser price for your trip?
dutyfree is offline  
Apr 19th, 2013, 07:55 PM
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"For my 21st Birthday, I went to Las Vegas with British Airways Economy Class".

Hence my thought that OP was/would be flying from LHR.
DebitNM is offline  
Apr 19th, 2013, 08:13 PM
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Dutyfree, you said what I thought. A long flight, which most of mine are a minimum of 7 hours, up to 12 non stop are a nightmare and I am able bodied.

Hope you can get an outcome you are happy with Mitch.
MissGreen is offline  
Apr 20th, 2013, 12:02 PM
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If flying put me in this much physical discomfort, I think I would find something fun to do a bit closer to home.

Given the nature and description of your affliction, I am surprised the airline will grant you access to any seat. They might take the position that your health is to precarious for them to undertake your care on such a long flight.
TC is offline  
Apr 20th, 2013, 05:04 PM
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"I maintain that due to no fault of my own I have to fund an upgrade to cater for my disability. I would suggest that given these unique circumstances, it is grossly unfair to have to pay for two upgrades just because of the nature of my disability."

You're kidding, right?! It's no fault of your own, true...but also no fault of the airlines either...or of the taxpayers...or of other passengers...or anyone else you assume should shoulder the expense of transporting you to Australia. I empathize with you and am sincerely sorry you must live with this disability. However, life isn't fair. In many cases it is indeed "grossly unfair".

Due to health problems of my own, I find it impossible to fly for any length of time folded into economy seats. In order to fund my travel to visit my son and his family who live on the other side of the world from me, I scrimp and save to pay for tickets, and I collect air miles to redeem for upgrades. I've never had cable television, I carry a basic mobile rather than a smart phone, I drive an old car with over 250,000 miles on it, I've lived in the same (old) house for 42 years, I don't eat out, I pack a lunch, never purchase new clothes; in short I economize in every way I can.

I suppose your other option is to search for a nonprofit organization which will give you a grant or in other ways help you pay for your trip in the class of service you require. Good luck.
julia1 is offline  
Apr 22nd, 2013, 02:35 AM
Join Date: Apr 2013
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I agree pretty much with what everyone else has said. The airlines are under no obligation to accommodate your request.

I presume you are flying from the UK?
sparkchaser is offline  
Apr 22nd, 2013, 11:19 AM
Join Date: May 2005
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While I am truly sorry for your medical needs and whlle I agree that the First Class cabin may be the only option for comfort and privacy, I also am in agreement with everyone that the airlines are by no means obligated to accomodate you at their convenience and expense. It sounds like BA kindly did so on your flights to and from Las Vegas, but only because they had room. I would consider that a gift and not a basis for your current expectations. All the airlines you contacted pretty much had the same response which should tell your something. It does sound like you have already made plans for this trip to Australia, good luck in making it work.
socaltraveler is online now  
Apr 22nd, 2013, 03:03 PM
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I've never heard of anyone being upgraded during a flight. If there was going to be an upgrade, it would have been done before boarding.
Odin is offline  
Apr 22nd, 2013, 04:25 PM
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Posts: 4,238

Upgrades do occur after boarding. If there is a space available, the airline will often upgrade an 'elite' passenger from coach to business or business to first class.

It's happened to me many times.
Rastaguytoday is offline  
Apr 22nd, 2013, 11:36 PM
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I doubt that happens on BA. I can see it happening on US carriers where upgrades are usual due to status etc. I also don't see an airline upgrading from economy to first either. That's a big jump. Economy to premium or business perhaps. I could be wrong.
Odin is offline  
Apr 23rd, 2013, 10:52 AM
Join Date: Oct 2003
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Mitch is a first time poster on FlyerTalk also. He is getting pretty much the same information of that forum. I wish him well, but I think he was very lucky that BA upgraded him on his birthday trip to Las Vegas.
BarbAnn is offline  
Apr 23rd, 2013, 02:35 PM
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Upgrades could occur after boarding but before takeoff. They're called operational upgrades or op-ups. Perhaps economy is oversold and a passenger might be bumped up to a higher cabin. This is under the control of the gate agent and never the flight attendants, and it will still take place under established rules. A passenger with elite status will always have priority. This is very rare, however, and should never be counted on.

I hate to continue to dump on the OP here, but I think the expectations are unreasonable. If you ask at check-in, you'll get the answer, "Yes, sir. And how do wish to pay for your upgrade?" That's assuming there is any space.
Jeff_Costa_Rica is offline  

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