Kevin Quaid, Vice-Chairperson of the European Working Group of People with Dementia writes about a bad experience at Heathrow Airport


I have Lewy body dementia and my wife Helena is my full time carer. In November, we attended the European Day of Persons with Disabilities, and as we were travelling from Ireland to Brussels we travelled from Shannon Airport to London Heathrow and from there on to Brussels. The weather was bad in both London as well as Shannon so our flight to London was delayed by 30 minutes, and when we got to London our flight to Brussels was delayed by a further 40 minutes, giving us just under two hours to make the connecting flight. I walk with the aid of a walking stick, so I get special assistance at every airport and normally don’t have a problem. We had to go from Terminal 2 to Terminal 5 in London, which takes a while, but we had our boarding cards for both flights ready. When we got to the Terminal for our flight to Brussels, we had to go through security again.

The display board said that our flight was delayed, though, so we thought that we wouldn’t have a problem. We reached a lady who was checking boarding cards and passports, before we got to security. I was in my wheelchair being taken to the gate by a very nice gentleman. Another gentleman who was also assisting two passengers with wheelchairs arrived and showed the lady the paperwork that he had for the two people he was assisting. She started to confront him, in what only can be classed as workplace bullying. She was shouting at him, about coming to the wrong gate. This continued for at least 15 minutes, so my wife then said to her, “Can you please let us through?” and asked her to carry on her conversation at a later stage, as we feared that we would miss our flight if we didn’t get moving. To which, she replied “So what? Lots of people miss their flights!”. We told her that we had to get to Brussels and that I have Lewy body dementia. To which, she replied, again, “So what? You won’t make your flight now anyway, so you will have to get the next flight”.

All the while, our plane was still sitting on the runway. The woman then instructed the special assistant to take us into a room to meet another official, who booked us on a flight which was leaving three hours later, I was told that I would have to go back to Terminal 2 and start all over again, which I refused to do. Having got our new tickets we were put in a waiting area and as we looked at the board it said our original flight was still delayed. I said it to a special assistant supervisor, who agreed with me, that we could have still got our flight! There was nothing they could do for us, at that point, though, as they were from a different company. This member of staff told my wife and I that a lot of people who work in security in Terminal 5 do not like people who require special assistance, as we “take up too much time”! After all this upset, we were finally taken to our gate, where we had to sit for a couple of hours with thousands of other people and in such a noisy environment. It was actually very frightening for me. When it came to our time to go to the flight, we told the special assistant who was pushing my wheelchair (again a very helpful guy) our story of what had happened, and to our horror he informed us that it was nothing new. His exact words were, “a lot of the people who work at security DESPISE people who need special assistance”, because we “take too long”.

It is hard to believe that, in this day and age, one of the biggest airports in the world would treat people in such a way and indeed you would have to question what type of training their staff are getting! From my side, unless absolutely necessary, I will never again use Heathrow Airport. If you are flying from there, be very careful of the way that you are being treated. I wish I had a better story about the airport but that is what happened to me, a person with Lewy body dementia, and my wife, who is my carer.