A disabled woman has sued Ryanair after her husband had to carry her onto a plane using a firemans’ lift when flight crew refused to help blaming HEALTH AND SAFETY.
Wheelchair-bound Jo Heath, 57, who suffers from multiple sclerosis, was left on a runway at Luton Airport for half an hour after the Ambulift she booked failed to turn up.
The Ryanair crew and pilot refused to help her onto the plane after claiming it was unsafe for them to carry disabled passengers because they might ”damage their backs”.
Instead, husband Paul, 56, was forced to carry his 10 stone wife up the stairs onto the plane using a ”fireman’s lift” as staff and passengers watched on.
Jo was left ”humiliated” by the incident and has now sued Ryanair for £1,750 after a court ruled the budget airline breached contract and broke disability discrimination laws.
Mum-of-two Jo said: ”My husband asked Ryanair staff to assist and told them I couldn’t stand up. But they just quoted health and safety at us and refused.
”I remember one guy saying he couldn’t help because ”he might do his back in”.
”They were expecting me to miraculously get up and walk up the stairs on my own but I haven’t walked for 10 years.
”I was sitting there feeling a little awkward so my husband gave me a firemans’ lift and carried me up the stairs.
”By then I was a gibbering wreck and embarrassed. When I was carried into the plane everyone was looking over their seats to see what was happening.
”It was humiliating and distressing. They treated me like an inconvenience not a passenger. I was made to feel like it was my fault.
”I’m not terribly impressed with the payout but it’s not a question of money. It’s about standing up for people with disabilities so this doesn’t happen to anyone else.”
Paul and Jo are frequent travellers and booked a weekend getaway from Luton Airport to Brest, in Brittany, France, in June 2008 through Ryanair’s website.
They filled out an online ”special requirement” form to book a hydraulic Ambulift which lifts disabled passengers up to the plane’s doors.
However, on the day of the flight the lift did not turn up and the plane’s pilot and crew refused to help Jo on board because it was against Ryanair policy.
Paul was forced to carry Jo onto the plane and she was so shocked by the incident that she decided to sue Ryanair through Northampton County Court.
Husband Paul, a race engineer for Formula 3 team Comtec, claims the couple rejected an out of court settlement because Ryanair wanted a confidentiality clause.
He said: ”I don’t think Ryanair will learn from this because they tried to brush us under the carpet.
”They actually offered us more money than we eventually received but we refused it because they wanted is to sign a confidentiality clause but we wanted open justice.”
The couple, from Milton Malsor, Northants., have been married for 32 years and have two sons Daniel, 30, and Tom, 29.
Jo has been using a wheelchair since 1990 and has been unable to walk for the past 10 years.
In his judgement Judge Paul McHale ruled Ryanair was in breach of contract for failing to help Jo onto the plane after the Ambulift failed to turn up.
He also ruled Jo had been discriminated against because of her disability.
Judge McHale said: ”In my judgement it cannot be argued that Mrs Heath didn’t suffer distress and physical inconvenience.
”She is a disabled person and she made arrangements with the airline to avoid humiliation in embarking on the plane. The defendant did not provide that service.
”I cannot imagine the humiliation that Mrs Heath felt with her husband having to carry her onto the plane by virtue of a fireman’s lift.
”All the defendant was interested in was getting the plane airborne on time.
”It is my judgement that I find as a matter of fact that anything that interfered with that turnaround time was going to be ignored.”
Ryanair has blamed the incident on Luton Airport and will appeal the decision.
A spokesman said: ”Ryanair will appeal the Northampton County Court decision since under EU law airports, and not airlines, are responsible for the provision of special assistance to passengers.
”This service is paid for Ryanair and the failure of Luton Airport’s service provider to assist Mr and Mrs Health in this case was not the responsibility of Ryanair.”