Airport wheelchair case opens
A DISABLED man forced to pay to use a wheelchair at Stansted Airport has begun a landmark court case against the airport and budget carrier Ryanair.Bob Ross, 54, is claiming the £18 fee he handed over is discriminatory and no-one should have to pay for such a service.
A DISABLED man forced to pay to use a wheelchair at Stansted Airport has begun a landmark court case against the airport and budget carrier Ryanair.
Bob Ross, 54, is claiming the £18 fee he handed over is discriminatory and no-one should have to pay for such a service.
The community worker from Islington, north London, has suffered from cerebral palsy since birth, which makes it difficult for him to walk, and later developed arthritis.
He was charged £18 for the use of a wheelchair when he travelled from London to Perpignan in France in February last year and again on his return journey a month later.
Mr Ross told Central London County Court yesterdaythat he rarely used a chair, preferring crutches or sticks instead and finds walking painful.
The 1km journey through the airport was too much for the regular traveller to manage, the court heard.
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"The distance at Stansted is such that it is totally impossible for me to get from the check-in desk to the aeroplane without using a wheelchair," Mr Ross said.
Stansted Airport and low fare airline Ryanair, with whom Mr Ross was flying, disagree over which of them should foot the bill.
Ryanair could absorb the cost of paying for passengers' wheelchairs by adding just 2p extra to the price of each of its flights, according to the claimant's legal team.
It is currently the only airline in the UK that does not provide wheelchairs free of charge to those that need them at Stansted.
Jason Galbraith-Marten, for Mr Ross, said: "There is more at stake than just one particular journey. This is very much a test case to decide whether Mr Ross ought to pay for a wheelchair himself or if not himself, who ought to pay for it."
He described Ryanair as a 'no frills airline' which keeps down costs by having planes on the tarmac for no more than 25 minutes.
Mr Galbraith-Marten said: "Ryanair adopted a position suggesting that use of wheelchairs was a matter of choice ... a frill akin to sandwiches or newspapers, and Ryanair does not provide that frill."
He said, however, that there had been some change now in this attitude by the airline.
Mr Ross has now bought a wheelchair to avoid the cost as Ryanair does not charge for helping passengers who have their own.
The airline denies it provides any service at the airport and that it is provided by Stansted Airport Limited, a subsidiary of BAA.
The airport in return argues that post check-in the responsibility for helping passengers reach the plane lies with the airline.
The case is being brought on behalf of Mr Ross by the Disability Rights Commission, which is looking for the removal of the £18 charge and unspecified damages.
Romie Tager QC, counsel for Ryanair, suggested to Mr Ross that he did not care who provided the wheelchair but "wanted it and did not want to pay £18 for it".
Mr Ross insisted he did not object to the fact that the fee contributed to a large part of his travel costs, but simply that such a charge existed.
Sinead Conroy, general manager of UK and European airports for Ryanair, said the company's decision not to pay for wheelchairs for customers that need them was due to their efforts to keep prices down.
Brian Langstaff QC, for Stansted Airport Limited, said Ryanair was making a distinction between passengers who owned wheelchairs and those who did not have their own.
Mr Langstaff read out a list of around 20 UK and Irish airports where wheelchair costs are not paid for by the airport operator.
"With the possible exception of Kerry within Britain and Ireland no airport pays the cost of providing wheelchair assistance to passengers," Mr Langstaff said.
The hearing was adjourned until today.