Christine Tongue: Me and flying

Queuing to get on the plane while waiting for the lost soul to get off

I love flying. I still get a thrill when I see the land fall away under me and the miracle happens of you being in the clouds, with mountains going by your window, or famous cities laid out like google maps under you.

Pity I hate airports.

Quite apart from the evils of air miles, pollution and the enormous amounts of fossil fuel it takes to get airborne there’s lots more to hate!

I’ve always loathed that absurd rigmarole of checking your stuff for something you shouldn’t be carrying, taking off shoes and belts, liquids in plastic bags, metal detectors and being made to feel like an international criminal because you left your nail file in your sponge bag…..

As a disabled person some of that burden is supposed to be taken from you – you get wheeled around by a nice carer who shows your passport, sorts out your bags etc. It worked fine four years ago when I last travelled by air.

Last month, fed up with winter, I was tempted to try again to get to Tenerife where it’s always summer weather and they boast of disability friendly resorts and luxury hotels.

Sunshine and accessible seafront in Tenerife

Four years ago we got a taxi to Gatwick disabled help office, a wheelchair and a helpful chair pusher was provided and everything dealt with. Stress free!

This time, I’m more disabled and therefore more vulnerable and more nervous about travelling. It took a lot of persuading myself to even try to fly.

In the disabled help office, we waited half an hour for a cheerful pusher who said he was there to look after me. What he didn’t say was he wasn’t there to see my poor partner was ok as well. He raced me away while Norman was left carrying our stuff and putting it in trays while trying to hold up his trousers and shuffle along in his socks.

A wheelchair takes you to the aircraft and you get on first with the parents and small children. Easy.

What’s not so easy is getting to the loo on a plane. The staff try to put your sticks in an overhead locker and promise to come back when you need them. My advice is don’t let them! They’ll be much too busy selling expensive perfume and overpriced sandwiches to give you your sticks when you need them. Cry if you need to. I did.

Arriving in Tenerife, a conscientious wheelchair pusher arrived and stayed with us until our transfer car turned up.

Three weeks later and we have to go home.

A very different story. There were around seven people needing help, all with a companion. Panic at the disability help desk. Not enough wheelchairs or helpers. I had the grumpiest man I’ve ever met in the Canaries – the people are universally lovely mostly.

He did the racing through the airport trick again but parked us in an obscure spot as the gate hadn’t been announced and the aircraft was delayed. My Spanish wasn’t up to the complicated grammar of: “Where do you think we should be if the gate is announced and will you come back?”

So, the wheelies clumped together and worried about what would happen. When the gate was announced, a troupe of teenage wheel pushers turned up and parked six of us next to the entrance. And vanished.

We were supposed to board first. But the pushers were off pushing others so the EasyJet rep announced Speedy boarders could board. So people who’d paid extra to get on first had to climb over a load of wheel chairs and babies….

Then they said families next – folding pushchairs and squeezing past the wheelchairs with a baby and hand luggage. I felt like screaming, like the twins next to me were as their dad tried to get past with one under each arm…..

But then the pushers turned up and raced the pushchairs so they could get the stickies on when they were supposed to get on – first. Chaos.

As we waited in the corridor to the plane, we realised that one poor old soul was still trying to get off! They must have cleaned round him on the plane and then realised he was supposed to be arriving.

I was sitting in a wheelchair he probably should have been in.

“Wait there!” He was told. “Where are you going?” But by then he’d forgotten and didn’t seem to care. I know how he felt.

There is a worrying point here. There seem to be more disabled people trying to travel – tempted by sunny resorts with wheel friendly seafronts and promises of accessible hotels. But I don’t think the airports are increasing the resources to deal with this. So, chances of things going wrong are multiplying with every trip.

Don’t let me put you off travelling, just be warned – travelling for disabled people is complicated, and not always up to what’s promised. Be prepared to make a fuss! We should be able to do what everyone else can do and if we can’t, it’s not our fault.

Christine is a founder member of disability campaign group Access Thanet


  1. Stand up for the disabled of Thanet – demand that Manston airport re-opens NOW! It is not at all fair that our less able-bodied people have to spend hours in a taxi because of a few selfish individuals!

    • I think you’ll find that Manston clos3d because too few people flew from it to make it viable.
      Rather than “a few selfish individuals”, you should direct your comment to most of the population of Thanet, because they chose either not to fly at all, or to fly from Gatwick.

      • Do you agree that an airport would be an “environmental disaster” locally, but is perfectly OK elsewhere, as suggested by George and Christine?

  2. I fully agree with Ms Pink, when Manston Airport was opened we took my disabled mother to Dublin for the day on EU jet it was her first ever flight, the ground crew at Manston treated my mother like royalty she was carried to her seat on the plane before any passenger were allowed on and treated with kindness by all the crew on the plane. We had a very memorable day in Dublin with family members. My mother never went to any London airports it was too far for her to travel she thoroughly enjoyed her day and flight for her 80th birthday treat.

  3. We took my wife’s mother on holiday with us to Crete in 1994 when she was aged 92 . Gatwick Airport were good and loaded her, us and the luggage on the “beep beep trolley”. You certainly never got that at the now defunct Manston which had very limited destinations. It is ridiculous to use someone with disabilities to argue agaijn for a chimera that is Manston . Even R.o.p.only want a smelly polluting cargo hub – and that doesn’t look like its happening either.

    • Keith Veness- why are you talking of ‘a smelly polluting cargo hub’ – what evidence have you that this is the plan!!>I am sorry to say but you are another ill informed troll. Please research and get your facts right before spouting off.

  4. Keith is a typical nimby, he’s happy to travel to Gatwick Airport to fly over others on his “ smelly polluting plane” that strangely enough carries cargo as well as passengers yet when it comes to Manston Airport he doesn’t want planes flying over him. I hope he and all the others who are prized hypocrites are disappointed tomorrow when the judge rules against Lady Sado and her little doom and glooms friends. When Manston Airport is finally given the go ahead.

  5. Well everyone, the court appeal is tomorrow ( wednesday) and it’s live on their YouTube channel, so we’re know if Manston gets the go ahead !

  6. Manston getting the ‘go ahead’ doesn’t change the fact it’s a) not needed and b) not viable.

    The pro-Manston climate-change deniers will be celebrating while the site remains unused for a few more years before RSP finally through the towel in and sell to developers.

    All that time wasted.

    • Change your name to Bluntly Dishonest. You are speculating and doing so in order to muddy the waters.
      Long live the aircraft industry with all its great potential.
      Bluntly Dishonest, go back to the Stone Age where your thinking belongs.

  7. Other holiday destinations are available and it seems the Spanish think so too.
    The message is everyone needs to reduce their carbon footprint and take fewer flights.
    I would recommend using Stansted instead.It can be reached as quickly as Gatwick and is a better airport.Both however are subject to the congestion on the M25,as if course would be any pink unicorn air service from Manston.
    Delivering an air cargo service from Manston is going to be hard enough,but delivering a viable passenger service to anywhere from Manston more so.I am afraid there is just not enough potential passengers living in East Kent to justify a passenger service,unless that is you want to double the numbers of the hated DFLs living in the area, that is?

    • It would be viable if they focused on internal flights. I have trips coming up from both Heathrow and Gatwick, and would jump at the chance of flying to them from an airport 3 miles away instead of lengthy taxi and/or train journeys.

  8. So now it’s internal flights as well! Next you will want a drone pick up service from Birchington to the airport, which when I will see if eBay are doing any deals on Gepard Afvs I am sure I can pick up one cheap.
    I don’t think you have understood this climate change problem Ms Pink, because flying as often that could mean good old Birchington gets washed away in the near future.On the other hand Bonne voyage go for your life!

    • Birchington, like most of Thanet, is built on cliffs. The big exception is much of Margate, which will be washed away. So if the sea rises, it’s a win-win situation all round!

      Enjoy your stay-cation in Cliftonville.

    • Mr Nokes – why are you such a nasty little man to certain people on this site who have differing views to your ramblings?

  9. I presume fedupboomer you refer to responding to the daft and erroneous unpleasantness of our pink mysognist who called someone a witch.I am just someone who is prepared to live and let live,where as some here,want to return to the 1950’s with mobile phones,central heating and ITV3 on 24/7 and neverending moans about artists,women, DFLs,and anyone not fitting into their narrow confines of being British.I would be fedup if I were a sad
    old git with all the personality of a bad tempered donkey.

    • Did you do much to celebrate St. George’s Day? Whatever it was, I hope you had as jolly a time as I did (hic!).

    • Measured and reasonable comments on here from all on this thread until you get involved George Nokes with your bile, insults and rambling. By the way as you are so consumed with people cutting back on their carbon footprint maybe don’t promote flying from Stansted!

      • I would challenge your statement about “Measured and reasonable comments”.
        There is a handful of people, one a prolific poster, who are anything but

        • Andrew, you are right. Peter Checksfield actually called me a prostitute (he used a synonym)in a comment.

          • You called me a man – not only offensive, but illegal when I’ve stated my gender. You should be deported.

          • What on Earth makes you think I was referring to you?
            Unless you acknowledge that you are indeed a prolific poster who is anything but measured and reasonable in his comments?

          • I didn’t think you were refering to me at all – I was just pointing out that you’re criticising other posters, but you’re far from perfect yourself.

            Peace, bro’!

  10. I see we have them all,well Laurence it all depends on which end of the telescope you are looking and no, I am not a supporter of the reform party or Tommy Robinson and his riotous assembly.
    Sticks and stones old fruit.
    I don’t fly much and Stansted is better laid out than Gatwick or Heathrow.Deny climate change if you wish,but I think it is a problem.

  11. By the way St George may have been a Roman soldier born in What is now Turkey.
    We have to share him with several others, whereas if we revert back to St Edmund who did exist (remember him being a target for viking arrows).
    I think St Edmund would be a better choice,as we would be embracing our Anglo Saxon heritage, not a Plantagenet

    • George I think you should sit down. I agree with everything you say as regards St Edmund plus the white dragon flag of Edmund is far more striking (in my view anyway) Fly it with pride on 20th November!

  12. I wish the commenters would think about the issue I was trying to highlight – the ongoing problems disabled people have in trying to do anything that the more able population can do. It’s not about Manston – a lovely idea but economically and environmentally disastrous – it’s about how to make simple provision to get people with mobility problems able to travel. Through Access Thanet I’ve heard very sad stories of people unable to visit family or go on a even a short trip because they’re scared of the transport options.

    • Christine Tongue, I am disabled but I am appreciative of all the mobility options offered to me. Disabled people are looked after very well these days so why don’t you stop whingeing, moaning and complaining? It’s all you ever do online. Get a life

      • She could certainly do with showing a little more empathy (pretty much every article includes a moan about babies and pushchairs!).

      • Please write to me about the help you get. I’d love to give disabled people a guide to the good things that might be available to them.

        • Christine Tongue, stop being a self-appointed busy-body and mind your own business. I have no intention of sharing anything with you.
          I don’t like your constant moaning and complaining which now comes across as obsessive.

          • Thank you for going on reading my column inspite of your dislike of what I say! You might reduce your blood pressure if you read Mathew Munson instead.

          • I read it because I care about people, disabled or not.

            I’ve only read the Munson column once or twice, and it bored me silly (I also wonder how that poor kid will feel later, when almost his entire childhood has been documented in minute detail).

    • How is a local airport “environmentally disastrous” when those elsewhere are perfectly fine? Or is it just a severe case of NIMBYism?

    • Christine Tongue, are you sure you are not just writing about yourself because you have no authority to speak on behalf of others, including my good self?
      A bit like Matthew Munson.

  13. Christine Tongue, I do not read Matthew Munson’s column as I have a low boredom threshold. I do not read yours in their entirety as I have more important things to do.

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