Tuesday 19 September 2017

'I’ll never fly with Ryanair again' - Mother taken off flight over wheelchair battery concerns

John and Dani McGovern with their two year old son Logan from Ballinalack, Co. Westmeath who were removed from a Ryanair flight between Birmingham and Dublin.
Photo: Tony Gavin
John and Dani McGovern with their two year old son Logan from Ballinalack, Co. Westmeath who were removed from a Ryanair flight between Birmingham and Dublin. Photo: Tony Gavin

Laura Lynott

A DISABLED mother says she felt a “criminal would be treated better” after she was forced to leave her crying toddler behind on a Ryanair flight after the airline removed her electric wheelchair from a plane.

Danielle McGovern (33) from Ballinalack, Co Westmeath, had flown without issue from Dublin to Birmingham for a weekend family break.

But when she was sitting on the return flight home to Ireland, on Bank Holiday Monday, the mother-of-one said she was told her electric wheelchair would have to be removed from the plane.

Ms McGovern flew into Birmingham just two days earlier and had been on several flights with the wheelchair in recent months.

Dani McGovern with her two year old son Logan from Ballinalack, Co. Westmeath who were removed from a Ryanair flight between Birmingham and Dublin.
Photo: Tony Gavin
Dani McGovern with her two year old son Logan from Ballinalack, Co. Westmeath who were removed from a Ryanair flight between Birmingham and Dublin. Photo: Tony Gavin

The mother said she was first asked by a disability assistance staff member on board what wattage her chair was, as the pilot had expressed concerns.

Ms McGovern, who has cerebral palsy, said she told the staff member that she didn’t know but that her wheelchair had a safe “dry” battery.

Her husband John, searched the wattage of the battery online and the couple said they gave the information to the pilot.

“We’d never been asked what the wattage was before on a flight and the only concern usual question for flights is if it’s a wet or dry battery,” Ms McGovern said.

“A wet battery isn’t allowed on a flight but a dry one is fine.  And the wattage was similar to a mobile phone we found out.”

Ms McGovern said that she’d filled out all the appropriate paperwork to get the wheelchair on the flight but she was given an ultimatum: stay on the plane without the chair or leave the aircraft.

“It was awful,” Ms McGovern said. "I’ve never had an experience like it.  It was discrimination and I’ll never fly with Ryanair again.

“I’d gone to Birmingham for a lovely family weekend away and there were eight of us on the flight.

“I felt like a criminal wouldn’t be treated any worse.

“It was my little boy, Logan’s first time flying, so we were excited about that and it all ended with me having to leave the flight in tears with my little boy crying, as he saw me leaving the plane.

“My husband John’s wheelchair is manual and it was allowed to stay on the plane.  John wanted to get off with me, he was very upset, as were all my family but I wanted him to stay on the flight with Logan.

“When they said I could stay on the plane without the chair I told the cabin crew I couldn’t walk without it but it didn’t make any difference.

“I felt awful. The plane was delayed by around an hour-and-a-half and there was an announcement that there had been a problem with cargo.

“I kept saying sorry to passengers but when they realised it was because of my wheelchair other travellers were upset for me and one woman said she’d be complaining. They told me not to say sorry, that it wasn’t my fault.”

Ms McGovern said she had filled in all the applicable paperwork for her wheelchair, she’d checked in with her family and had never been told she had to do anything else. 

“I’ve travelled to several places in the past year with that same wheelchair and I’ve been to Lanzarote and the U.S with it and it’s never been a problem,” she said.

“By asking what the wattage was, I feel the pilot was trying to insinuate my chair could be a hazard but I think that was just an excuse.”

Ms McGovern’s sister, Sharon Weldon, also claimed she saw ground staff “kicking” and manhandling the wheelchair.

“I was looking out the window from the plane and saw them kicking and roughly trying get the battery out of the wheelchair,” she told the Herald.

“I told the cabin crew to stop them, that the chair is worth €12,000 and the battery couldn’t be removed.

“I wished I’d taken a photo of them doing it but I was shocked and just didn’t think at the time.

“The way Ryanair treated my sister was appalling. I was furious.”

Ms McGovern was also infuriated that the airline hadn’t sorted the issue out within the hour- -and-a-half the flight had been delayed.

She claimed airline staff had a boarding card ready for her to get on another Ryanair flight when she returned to the airport.

“How could I not get on the flight I was on but there was a boarding card waiting for me to go on another flight?” she said.

“The flight I got on was supposed to take off at 3pm but was delayed by 40 minutes and I got back to Dublin at about 5.30pm,” she said.

“The others were waiting for me in Dublin Airport for three hours, including my little boy and the three other kids with us, my niece, who’s 10, and nephews who are 7 and 5.

“The kids were all exhausted.  I was in tears on the plane and my sister was crying too.

“I will never fly with Ryanair again, I’ll never go through it again.  Even when I went back to the airport I was never apologised to by Ryanair.

“No one explained the situation and it might have helped a little bit to hear some kind of explanation and apology.”

A Ryanair spokesman said: “A customer on this flight from Birmingham to Dublin was asked to provide information relating to her wheelchair battery, in line with standard safety regulations, but was unable to do so in time for the flight departure.

"They were provided with refreshment vouchers and transferred free of charge on to the next available flight to Dublin (which departed two hours later). While we regret any inconvenience caused, the safety of our customers, people and aircraft is our number one priority.”

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