13th November, the start of my adventure to the other side of the world.
It had been just two days since Mum and I had come off a plane from San Fransisco (that's another blog!) Already we were heading off to Singapore before Perth, Australia where I was a keynote speaker.
I've never flown with Singapore Airlines, I had only heard good things about this airline, so I was feeling quite relaxed.
I was lucky enough to be escorted to the lounge at Terminal 2, Heathrow (all about who you know right!?) after chilling in comfortable chairs and sipping cocktails, we were finally called to board. Mum and I grabbed our hand luggage, I grabbed my cane and off we went, I felt excited at this point, I think Mum did too albeit she had repeatedly expressed her dread for the 12 hour flight to Singapore!
Approaching the plane we were greeted by smiling faces, and the lady hostesses all dressed in a kimonos even notified me when to step on to the aircraft and even took my elbow, 'Good start,' I thought to myself.
Having being seated, I scanned around me to get familiar with the surroundings that would be home the next 12 hours.
We had bulkhead seats, in premium economy so i had plenty of room and being the clumsy person I am these days I felt more comfortable even though I had been seated beside a couple with a young baby - “Don’t lean left Molly” I told myself, I ceraintly wouldn't have wanted to disturb, wake, knock or touch this little one! There was seating for two people and I think it would have been more appropriate for me and my mum to avoid accidents!
I soon noticed the TV screens were positioned on the wall in front, rather than folded and released from under your seats like with BA or Virgin, this was the next negative, yes, great to have extra personal space foot however the screens were of a distance that I could not see them very well at all, very blurred, never mind I thought, hopefully I will sleep anyway, best thing for me to do on a night flight as the cabin is so dark, a real challenge being deafblind and night blind.
Before take off I waited patiently for somebody from the cabin crew to approach to talk me through the safety instructions, give me clear directions to toilets and emergency exits. To run through the entertainment system and of course to show me both where the help button was and the light button but nobody came. I felt anxious.
This was a night flight, meaning the lights were out shortly after we took off, and already I struggled navigating the controls for the screen let alone the chair for light or to even locate where the toilets were. 'I could never do this without help' I thought. How sad did that make me feel? At 22, I don't want to feel like I'm reliant on another and even with company safety of each and every passenger is with the airline.
I am well travelled and my experiences on several other airlines are to board those needing extra time first, to then speak with me on a one to one and to provide information about safety, instructions on where everything is located in the aircraft and to check in with me from time to time. Several airlines would also provide items of safety equipment for me to touch so I’m as aware as I can be.
on board an aircraft is a very difficult environment I struggle to hear as well as see.
When the safety instructions occurred on screen, I noticed when looking up close there was a person in the corner of the screen signing the instructions, Of course this was not accessible to me with my lack of vision, and scanning around the screen I could make out what looked like subtitles but again, inaccessible to myself.
Having taken off and in the sky, the lights were considerably dim (I guess as it was 10:30pm at this point,) however this light I am virtually useless in, let alone in the dark. I was keen to just get my hearing aids out and try to sleep the hours away... As soon as I'd eaten, I then felt around for buttons on my seat to try and push the chair back in a more comfortable position to sleep. The buttons from I could see all had red lights on them... they all looked exactly the same to me. I tried asking Mum, and Mum was stuck helping me and struggled because of her own bulky chair being in the way. Though premium economy is considerably spacious, the actual seats and arm rests are quite compact making it hard for me or anyone else to lean across and help me. We eventually found the 'call,' button and got someone to adjust the chair for me, at this point you could say I was in a bad mood... 'Just sleep Molly,' I thought. I felt totally useless and extremely restricted when all I wanted to do was sleep.
Having eventually caught a few hours sleep, when I woke up it was pitch black, I was totally blind. I couldn't see Mum, I couldn't see my hands, nothing. Not to mention my hearing aids were out. Unfortunately I was suffering with a sore throats and ear ache to make matters worse and more uncomfortable. Next door to me were a couple with a toddler, this couple got a lot of assistance and even got upgraded as their TVs didn't work... 'At least you could see enough to distinguish that,' I thought. I couldn't tell you if my TV worked or not, it was simply inaccessible! I missed out on entertainment on a 12 hour flight. I closed my eyes a few more times to in hope time would pass. Eventually I woke up and it was lighter, it was breakfast time.
Every time the air hostess approached and gave the options of food and drink, Mum had to repeat more than once before I understood/ heard. I was really feeling quite dependent at this point and fed up. Despite continuously struggling the air steward did not offer further assistance.
I even had to ask my Mum where the toilets and exits were, everybody else got the instructions loud and clear at the start, and I did not even know where the toilets or exits were... This is absolutely unacceptable.
I asked my Mum not to speak to the cabin crew as firstly she is not my carer but my Mum, secondly, she shouldn't have to speak to them and thirdly, I did not want a fuss, simply access to everything everybody else has!
My Mum was very cross as she had advised of my condition on booking, at the airport and it was pretty clear, having entered the plane with my cane in hand the crew knew I had a disability - even with all that I was ignored.
The male staff member my Mum approached discreetly made her very angry, firstly stating ‘We forgot’ then suggesting in fact she should be responsible for me on board the flight. Completely unacceptable response.
Well yes, my Mum is my Mum, she is not trained in aircraft safety and accept that she was with me is no more responsible for me than any other passenger on the aircraft.
I am 22 years old and deafblind I would appreciate being treated like an adult and an individual and for one to just offer the reassurance and assistance where need be, especially on a 12 hour night flight. What if I needed the toilet and my Mum was asleep? What if my Mum was in the toilet and I needed help? It is not my mother’s responsibility.
Every passenger's safety on a plane is the responsibility of the airline, every flight begins with a safety announcement yet I was not considered, no thought was given at all.
The crew were very concerned about the passengers beside me having a broken TV, so much so they upgraded them, I couldn't see to know if my TV worked!
I was 'forgotten.'
The two adults to my left with the toddler received a lot of assistance and his parents were right there and fully responsible for him. Mighty special I felt!
If an elderly couple appeared on the plane, air crew would approach and speak with the individually or in any case just say, 'let us know if you need us,' they would not say 'you've got each other, help yourselves.' Contextually, this is the same as them placing full responsibility on my Mum.
My Mum is not trained in aircraft safety. Quite frankly she's a passenger on a plane also, and shouldn't have look after her 22 year old daughter for 12 hours and nor do I want her to.
After making a complaint to the ‘rude steward another man came and spoke to my Mum and was apologetic, however, the damage was already done.
I could not wait to leave the aircraft and when I did I was confronted with a woman who was there to ‘assist’ she advised me I needed to wait for her and other passengers needing assistance. I advised i wants to stretch my legs and I am glad she did as she was intending to take me through immigration which would have been completely unnecessary as I had a connecting flight again with Singapore Airlines so she should have known that.
I dreaded the next flight after such poor service, however, it would seem word had gotten across about my needs and this time my Mum had her say right away, knowing how upset I was from the previous flight.
This flight was the shorter of the two flights and thankfully my needs were considered.
I am not looking forward to flying with Singapore Airlines back to the UK, I believe there needs to be more disability awareness training particularly for those of us with hidden disabilities and sensory impairment on the whole it was not a pleasant experience.