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When will airlines learn?

Updated: Feb 27

I had my trip to Southeast Asia next year all planned way in advance, as I like. Having something to look forward to helps me so much.

Despite my experience in Helsinki airport in 2021, I’m fairly confident flying now with any airline and finding my way around the airport. But this time, my journey invol ved a 2am change at Doha Airport to catch a 5am connecting flight. I thought about the cognitive struggle of travelling in the middle of the night and how tiredness and stress are triggers for my epileptic fits. So I decided to enquire with Qatar Airways about whether someone could assist me. I wasn’t asking for a wheelchair or anything like that, just someone to be there in case I had a fit and to make sure I got to the right gate.

When I called Qatar Airways to explain my disability and needs, the woman I spoke to had clearly never heard of epilepsy! She couldn’t find it on their disability database. I was eventually told to call in a week’s time to find out if my application had been accepted. If not, I would have to pay for any assistance. Those with physical disabilities are entitled to free assistance and do not have to pay. To charge people with hidden disabilities seems horrifying and very discriminative.

I called a week a later and was told I needed to provide a letter of proof that I had epilepsy along with permission to fly from my doctor. I accepted this and sent them a letter a few days later. The letter my doctor wrote explained my brain injury, cognitive difficulties and epilepsy, also clearly wording how I didn’t need a wheelchair and I was fit to fly.

I received an email a few days later telling me medical clearance now wanted me to fill out a form for both flights and have it stamped by a doctor for pre-approval. They weren’t cooperative when I reminded them of the original doctor’s letter sent, and insisted it was essential.The form asked for all kinds of data including pulse, haemoglobin and oxygen saturation. I found some of the questions so shaming, such as whether my condition is ‘likely to cause distress or discomfort to other passengers’.

After all this, I decided I didn’t want their help anyway and attempted to cancel my request for assistance but was told “I understand your frustration but you will have to fill in the form”. From this moment, I knew I did not want to fly with a company who clearly don’t know anything about hidden disabilities and human rights.

I am aware this is a Middle Eastern airline, with a different stance from European and westernised countries. However, as they serve other countries, they should have knowledge of all hidden disabilities and our rights.

It all felt like too much hassle and I was ready to cancel my whole trip. I ended up cancelling my flights and losing some money. However, I refused to be disheartened and I went on to find good direct flights with another airline and knew not to mention epilepsy when booking. It is clearly too much of a risk.

I will not be using Qatar Airways again. In this day and age, companies are increasingly expected to be socially responsible and contribute to equal opportunities. I will only use companies that value diversity and equal opportunities and it’s in their own interest as I am more likely to stay a loyal customer to them.

I will get myself to Vietnam and Thailand, blog to follow! What I had to go through to make it happen was unfair, but it has made me more determined to keep campaigning for hidden disability rights.

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