A BRITISH mum has blasted Ryanair after it allegedly tried to charge her autistic son extra to carry on his support doll.
Helen Wakefield, 50, from Doncaster, accused the budget airline of demanding payment for her 15-year-old son Leo’s doll on a flight from Alicante to Leeds Bradford Airport on April 27.
Helen claims the low-budget carrier tried to claim the orangutan toy was hand luggage, causing Leo, who has severe autism and the mental capacity of a three-year-old, to have a meltdown.
“Police were called and four or five of them surrounded him at Alicante airport,” the mum claimed, “they physically touched him without his awareness and his doll which caused his meltdown.
“If they had any autism awareness they would have know this would always escalate to a meltdown.”
Helen claims her son and his carer had to be taken to the airport doctor and be medicated because he was so distressed.
She claimed: “Ryanair offloaded the luggage and offered them no other way to get home, shrugging shoulders saying no flights until next Tuesday.”
The mum said her son and his carer were forced to book new flights with Jet2, who were ‘outstanding’.
“They stayed with Leo from when they bought new tickets at the desk and have been sat on the floor with him as he was so frightened to board the plane trying to calm and reassure him,” she said, “He was in a wheelchair at this point due to them medicating him.”
Helen told the Olive Press today: “It has really overwhelmed me a bit but I feel I can’t let it drop after so many other disabled people have had issues.
“Leo’s Dad died at the end of 2017 and I have had to have major surgery so in view of this Leo had been taken on holiday with his special needs carer to allow me to recover.
“Leo stayed at the Magic Tropical Splash in Benidorm, he had a lovely time and was very popular there he made lots of other friends with disabilities .. the hotel was excellent for special needs.”
In a letter to Ryanair, seen by the Olive Press, Helen called for better training, labelling the carrier’s alleged conduct as ‘unacceptable’.
She said: “A Meltdown is a very unsafe and unpredictable situation. A person in meltdown has no plan, they have lost control. They are vulnerable to significant injury. There is no ‘end game’
“Therefore is it so important to understand what behaviours are related to a disability and what is simply behavioural. The key is to support the person or child before the ‘meltdown’.
“With the wrong approach there may only be seconds available before a situation with an autistic child will escalate to chaos.
“This is where there was significant and unacceptable failures on the part of Ryanair and ground staff and various breaches of the Disability Act by failing to make reasonable adjustments for a traveller that has a disability.
“At this point may I add the carer had requested ‘special assistance’ she was declined with reason given as ‘Leo can walk’. Not to mention the human elements of compassion, empathy and consideration towards a vulnerable child.
“In desperation at being stranded at Alicante with a distressed and vulnerable child the carer had to approach the Jet2 desk and re purchase flights with them.
“They way Leo was treated from this point was in stark contrast to the service provided by Ryanair, and thankfully with much support and a wheel chair they managed to get Leo to board the flight and he arrived at LBA without further incident.
“This has caused deep distress to Leo and I do not think we will be able to get him to fly again.”
The mum has called for the Dublin-based airline to widen its training of staff to ensure they can handle similar situations in the future.
Ryanair told the Olive Press: “This teenage passenger and his carer were provided with special assistance by Alicante airport after checking in. (All such assistance in Alicante is provided by the Airport Authority).
“At passport control, the teenager became agitated and aggressive towards his carer and the carer took the decision not to travel.
“The passengers were then taken to the airport medical assistance team where the upset passenger received sedation.
“As these two passengers never arrived at the Ryanair Boarding gate, their luggage was offloaded at the request of Alicante passport control staff, who advised Ryanair’s gate agents that they had decided not to travel.
“These two passengers did not arrive at the boarding gate, and therefore, they were not ‘denied boarding’ and neither were they charged for any hand luggage”.