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Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Blind woman refused easyJet flight because firm wouldn't let her guide dog travel

By Laura Lynott

Joanne Jones was not allowed onto her easyJet flight from Gatwick because she did not have the paper work to prove Orla was her guide dog

A blind woman who missed her flight home because budget airline easyJet refused to let her guide dog travel, said she is ‘upset, angry and disappointed’.

Joanna Jones had been due to board a flight from London’s Gatwick airport to Belfast International on Sunday - with her poodle/Labrador cross guide dog, Orla - but wasn’t allowed on the plane because staff said she didn’t have the correct paperwork.

Miss Jones said: ‘I’ve experienced discrimination before, but not to this level over such a minor detail.’

Miss Jones, who had booked her flight months in advance and made a phone call ten
days before flying to check her special assistance was booked and she said the airline knew she was travelling with a guide dog.

‘I was first asked if I had a passport for her - which you don’t need when you’re travelling domestically, that’s only for travelling abroad,’ said Miss Jones.

‘I was then asked if I had any type of paperwork to prove she was a guide dog, which I don’t. So I pointed to her harness and the tag on her lead and collar and to the fact that I am obviously blind.

‘They went back to speak to people in head office and came back to me and said that, if I don’t have the paperwork, I wouldn’t be allowed to fly.’

She said: ‘I am totally frustrated and flabbergasted’ by the whole ordeal.

She has made the trip between England and Northern Ireland many times over the last 12 years, including on easyJet flights, and says she has never been asked for paperwork before.

‘I fly backwards and forwards a few times each year to see my parents, but now I’m left thinking oh goodness, who am I going to fly with next time and what’s going to be the easiest route for me to take?,’ she said.

In a statement from the Guide Dogs Association, Transport Policy Officer John Welsman said: ‘While what happened to Ms Jones is unfortunate, airlines do have rules which say that assistance dog owners must provide proof of their dog’s status.

‘Those rules are in place to protect passenger safety, and we would remind all our guide dog owners to carry their ID cards with them at all times.’

On Sunday, she contacted the Guide Dog Association through an emergency number and they sent basic details - including the computer number printed on Orla’s collar - to the service desk.

Gatwick Airport, where Miss Jones was not permitted to board her flight
easyJet at that point said they now had enough proof - but Miss Jones had already missed her flight.

An easyjet spokesman said: ‘easyJet welcomes passengers travelling with assistance dogs and carries hundreds each year.

‘However, in line with CAA guidelines, easyJet’s regulations make clear that documentation must be carried showing that they are a trained guide dog.

‘Guide dogs receive intensive training from accredited organisations like Guide Dogs for the Blind Association, to ensure that they can cope with the conditions on-board an aircraft. This is to protect the safety and security of the passenger, their guide dog and all other passengers.

‘In this case, unfortunately Miss Jones did not have this documentation with her and by the time it was faxed through she missed her flight.

‘easyJet staff offered every assistance to Miss Jones and transferred her free of charge onto the first available easyJet flight this morning.’

On arriving back in Belfast on Monday morning, Miss Jones was asked if she would travel with easyJet again and replied: ‘Probably not. I’ll have to have a look at my alternatives.’

She took to social networking site Twitter yesterday (Monday) to air her discontent at the airline.

Miss Jones was born partially-sighted and has been registered blind since the age of 16.

She had faced difficulties before but never to such an extent and over such a minor issue.

‘It makes you a little bit more cautious, a little bit more wary about the ease of travelling,’ she said.

‘Usually it’s something I would have taken for granted.’

Miss Jones’ partner Barry Toner, who is also registered blind, has also lashed the budget airline for a ‘lack of common sense’ in dealing with the issue.

He said: ‘I got a phone-call from her at 7.30pm to say that they weren’t letting her board the aircraft because they didn’t believe that her guide dog was, in fact, a guide dog.

‘The dog was standing there wearing an official guide dog harness and had a medallion with the guide dog logo embossed on it and with the guide dog name and number and so forth - but that wasn’t sufficient.’

Miss Jones and Orla spent yesterday relaxing at home, but she has said she will be taking the matter further.



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