helen-louise (baratron) wrote,

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We're off to Zürich on Thursday. Every time my mum has a "big number" birthday, she wants to do something she's never done before, which usually equates to going somewhere she's never been before. I think this is a good policy. We picked Switzerland somewhat at random since the flights were cheap compared to the rest of Europe, and Zürich because it has the highest number of vegetarian & vegan restaurants on HappyCow. Plus I've never been there, either.

So I just endured an exquisitely painful conversation with a random woman at Swiss Air (now branding itself simply as SWISS - but that's a useless company name unless you already know that I'm talking about an airline). I had to call the airline because there's no way to arrange assistance online (really, I did look), and as an online friend said "it has to be as inconvenient as possible". Since it was gone 1 am here, I got connected to some random country where it is still normal working hours, and was asked weird personal questions in an entirely unnecessary way! The conversation went something along the lines of:

"Why do you need a wheelchair?"
"Er, what are the options you have on your screen?" (Expecting something along the lines of
a) Cannot walk long distances, needs assistance through the airport, but can climb stairs.
b) Cannot walk long distances or manage stairs, but does not need assistance on the plane.
c) Cannot walk at all, needs an onboard wheelchair.

"Well, is it because you've had surgery?"
"Or broken your leg?"
"No, it's because I need to check in my wheelchair, so I can't drive myself to the gate!"

Only it went on longer, and was more torturous. We did, eventually, go through the options a, b and c above, but she had to point out that there were already 3 people who needed assistance on my flight, as if that should make a difference to my need for assistance. (Also, only 3 people who needed assistance?)

Then when I explained that although I prefer not to climb stairs because it leaves me in pain, I *can* in an emergency situation, she started suggesting I might need to get a medical clearance! So I pointed out that it's chronic fatigue, I've had it for years, and I've flown all over the place.

And THEN when I explained that I wouldn't need any extra help from airline staff onboard the flight since I'd have my husband with me, she started calling me Mrs Lastname! If I wanted to be booked as Mrs Lastname, I'd be booked as Mrs Lastname rather than Ms Lastname! She had my booking on screen, with Mrs Mother's Name MyLastName, Ms Helen-Louise MyLastName, and Mr Richard SomeOtherName, and I'd given my first name as part of the call! Clearly, if I was Mrs, I'd have Richard's surname rather than mine, or he'd be Mr MyLastName, but...

She attempted to apologise at the end because she realised that she had obviously failed from the mismatch between her questions and my answers, but her apology was so damned embarrassing (due to her panicking and making it up on the spot) that I said "no, no, that's okay" just to finish the phone call!

When booking travel, I don't care where on Earth I get connected to, as long as they have the training to deal with the situation effectively. (Honestly, it's travel, of course you get connected to people for whom it's a sensible time to be at work!). However, if your company does not have a dedicated disability assistance line, then that means that every employee who answers the phone has to know how to ask the right questions in a sensitive manner. Unfortunately, that means that either you need to have really good training (repeated frequently), or a really good computer system with a script for employees to follow. Clearly, this was not the case for this phone call.
Tags: mum, travel, wheelchairs, wuzzie

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