Woman paralysed from neck down left on plane for 90 minutes amid shambolic airport staff shortages

Victoria Brignell was left abandoned after staff failed to remove her from a stationary aircraft

Published

A woman who is paralysed from the neck down was left stranded on a plane at Gatwick Airport on Saturday, after staff failed to arrive and offer assistance.

Victoria Brignell, from Shepherd's Bush, West London, was returning home from a holiday in Malta, when she was left waiting on the stationary plane for over 90 minutes.

Ms Brignell's chair was prepped outside the plane, but Gatwick contractors, Wilson James, who are responsible for assisting passengers, failed to show.

In a statement, Ms Brignell explained: "Shortly after landing the BA airline staff came up to me and said they’re sorry but the people who are meant to help get me off the plane would not be there for 50 minutes.

“Time passed and I was then told it would be another half an hour on top of that. In the end I was waiting an hour and 35 minutes.

“I am paralysed from the neck down so I can’t use my arms or legs. To get off a plane I need two people to lift me from the airplane seat into an aisle chair, which is a specially designed narrow wheelchair to push me along the aisle off the plane, and lift me into my wheelchair waiting outside.

“My wheelchair arrived promptly, but the people who were supposed to help me get off the plane didn’t turn up – they were busy elsewhere.”

Ms Brignell commended British Airways staff who ultimately escorted her off the aircraft
Ms Brignell commended British Airways staff who ultimately escorted her off the aircraft

Ms Brignell commended the excellence of the British Airways staff, who were "fantastic" and extended their apologies, providing drinks while she waited.

Observer Columnist Sonia Sodha tweeted outrage in reply to the incident stating: "Hi @Gatwick_Airport my friend with a disability Victoria, has been left waiting on a plane that's landed for getting on an hour now. This is really unacceptable."

Ms Sodha added an image of Ms Brignell alongside her tweet, which captures her alone in an aisle seat, sat in the empty plane.

The carers that had accompanied Ms Brignell on her trip abroad, were unable to be dismissed until she returned home more than an hour and a half later than planned. She was also unable to use the bathroom for the entirety of the flight.

The abandonment of Ms Brignell, caused further delays at Gatwick, as passengers for the next flight were unable to board.

Passengers at Gatwick Airport were left waiting to board their flights following the abandonment of Ms Brignell
Passengers at Gatwick Airport were left waiting to board their flights following the abandonment of Ms Brignell

She added: “I have been very nervous about travelling by plane because I had heard so many horror stories about people’s chairs going missing, but I went for the first time just before the pandemic so this was the second time I’d gone abroad and my fourth flight.”

BA staff were able to assist Ms Brignell off the aircraft, in the absence of Gatwick contractors.

Gatwick apologised to Ms Brignell via Twitter, asking her to get in touch with them directly, and she plans to submit an official complaint.

She said: “I just feel in 2022 people shouldn’t be stuck on a plane for that long. UK airports need to get their act together and plan their staffing appropriately.

“I booked the help two months in advance – I didn’t just turn up – and I reminded them two weeks before as well.”

A Gatwick Airport spokesperson said: “The treatment received at Gatwick Airport was unacceptable and I would like to offer our sincere apologies to Victoria.

“This incident has been escalated and Gatwick and Wilson James, our assistance provider, are investigating how this happened as a matter of urgency.”

A spokesperson from Wilson James said: “We are deeply disappointed to have delivered a poor service on this occasion.

“While the aviation sector in particular is struggling with well-documented pressures, Ms Brignell’s experience is unacceptable and falls far below our values and aims as a service provider; the Wilson James team extends our sincere apologies to her.

“We will be reaching out to her privately to offer our apologies, and Wilson James and the airport are investigating the incident as a matter of priority.”