Travel - the good, the bad and the ugly

12 Jul 2022

With summer holidays approaching, we asked RiDC Trustee Tracey and panel member Nom, about their experiences of travel - the good, the bad and the ugly. And found out what a gamble travel is for disabled people.

Travel often offers the chance to escape and experience something new, whether it’s a life-changing adventure or a short break to relax and recharge.

This time of year, many people are thinking of getting away within the UK or further afield. And, partly because of this surge in demand, cancelled flights, rail delays and substandard special assistance services have all hit the headlines in recent weeks, highlighting just how challenging travel can be for disabled and older people.

Tracey Proudlock’s recent experience has been mixed to say the least.

“Generally I find air travel to have too many barriers and having to rely on the airport special assistance services is stressful,” she says. “I have previously sat on a plane and had to wait patiently for assistance, when others have long disembarked.”

So for a recent holiday to Amsterdam, Tracey decided to travel with Eurostar hoping that a previous good experience would play out again. But multiple issues including broken accessible toilets and a lack of staff to help her navigate her way around stations, turned the trip into a nightmare.

“The problems have put me off travelling this way again, until I can be confident that things will be different in the future,” says Tracey, who made a formal complaint and reported her experience to a transport watchdog.

For RiDC panellist Nom Mbambo, however, there is still magic to be found in air travel.

“My preferred method of travel is definitely flying,” she says. “I’m one of those weird people who just really loves flying. I cannot explain in words the feeling when I get on the plane. It’s a real sense of freedom.”

The issue of special assistance at airports comes up again and again. RiDC research carried out with Which? in 2019 showed communication between airlines and airports was failing disabled and older travellers alike. And for many, it affects where they choose to go.

“Assistance affects my choice of holiday destination a lot because if there isn’t assistance I am totally stuck. It’s as simple as that,” says Nom. “So, I do a lot of research before I go anywhere. It has also stopped me from going to places I wanted to go to because it wasn’t clear if places have the access or support I need. There are a lot of Asian and African countries that I would love to go to but because of accessibility I can’t.”

Tracey says that planning a holiday can feel like a gamble.

“Sometimes it pays off and you have a glorious time but there are many unknowns and things can quickly go very wrong; poor access, no toilets, exclusion and a poor attitude from staff and you wish you’d stayed at home.”

Nom has had poor experiences too. Despite doing lots of research ahead of time and being reassured by a well known tour operator that a hotel was accessible, she arrived at accommodation with a steep, bumpy path to the main entrance and steps from her bedroom into her bathroom.

“The hotel had to book us into somewhere that was actually accessible. That wasn’t a great experience at all and it put me off travelling abroad for a while,” says Nom.

The onus seems to be on the traveller to find out about accessibility, rather than the travel company, service or airline. And both women’s agree that it’s wrong that disabled people are made to feel they’re not welcome.

“Things are slowly improving,” says Nom. “A lot of companies have got much better at making it clear if, for example, their hotel is wheelchair accessible. But there are many who haven’t and when you try to find out the information is not there. Disabled consumers should be able to expect more.”

Rather tellingly Tracey says there isn’t a single place she would recommend for accessibility, which shows the challenges faced by disabled and older travellers.

“I plan to go back to Amsterdam in 2023. I’d like to go with the rest of my family and introduce them to the truly superb Tulip Festival; it's an outdoor delight; the plants and aroma from the surrounding fields is a great boost to your well-being.

“I’d recommend it to anyone, as yet I am not sure about how to get there,” she says.