Agent says more must be done for disabled travellers after niece books accessible cabin but is told she’ll have to walk off ferry

By Harry Kemble
30/06/2023
Home » Agent says more must be done for disabled travellers after niece books accessible cabin but is told she’ll have to walk off ferry

A homeworker says the travel industry must do more for disabled travellers after her niece had to cancel her holiday because she was told she’d have to walk off the ferry even though she uses a wheelchair.

Not Just Travel agent Gilly Bachelor said 21-year-old Mimi Paxton had booked an accessible cabin for a crossing from Portsmouth to the Spanish city of Santander in April, for travel in July.

However, she was then contacted by Brittany Ferries, who said that unless she could walk off the ferry she wouldn’t be able to travel because the shuttle bus from the ship to the terminal in Santander couldn’t take wheelchairs.

Mimi has Fowler’s syndrome, which means she has severe bladder pain and uses a wheelchair because she is unable to walk.

A Brittany Ferries spokesperson apologised for not being able to accommodate Mimi on the Portsmouth-Santander sailings on 7 July and 19 July.

The spokesperson said it had made several attempts to contact Mimi, with the first attempts being made by phone and email on the day she made the booking.

The ferry line confirmed it advised Mimi to cancel her booking and rebook onto its Pont-Aven ship, which operates a Plymouth-Santander route to and from an adjacent quay at the Spanish port, with a lift for wheelchair users.

The spokesperson said: “Ms Paxton originally booked her sailings with us online on 26 April. We phoned and emailed her later that day in order to discuss the assistance she might require in port and on board, but we were unfortunately unable to receive a response; we attempted to contact Ms Paxton again by phone and email multiple times over the next weeks but were again unfortunately unable to reach her until 7 June.

“While we do our utmost, working with our port partners, to ensure that our services are accessible to foot passengers using a wheelchair, there are certain cases where this sadly isn’t possible due to operational or safety constraints as was the case here,” the spokesperson added.

“Unfortunately, in Santander, Santoña operates from a new quay, which is some distance from the passenger terminal building.

Santoña is obliged to dock at this quay as the ship is fuelled by Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) and this is where the LNG refuelling facility is located.

“The transfer for foot passengers from ship to terminal and vice versa is currently made by a shuttle bus which is not adapted for the use of passengers using a wheelchair.”

Gilly, pictured, behind Mimi, said: “Clearly, if she was able to walk a long distance unaided, she wouldn’t require a wheelchair.”

She added: “I think we’ve got a challenge in the industry about accessibility. I’ve done many trips for Mimi but there are so many moving parts that you need to consider. I think as an industry we need to do more.”

The ferry firm said it hopes to resolve the accessibility issue with the port authority in Santander ‘in the near future’.  

Mimi received a full refund from Brittany Ferries for the £1,016 booking and decided to fly with Ryanair instead, but ongoing health problems mean she has now decided to cancel her trip altogether.

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