A discount airline prevented a disabled child from boarding a flight because nobody would pay more for a small comfort doll to be carried aboard, a mother has claimed.
Ryanair crew allegedly refused to board Leo Estella, 15, on April 27 because they failed to collect the £25 ($32.34) carry-on fee from him and his carer at Alicante–Elche Airport, 263 miles southeast of Madrid.
After learning Leo had missed his flight back to Doncaster, 36 miles southeast of Leeds in the United Kingdom, mother Helen Estella used social media to vent her frustration about the airline’s handling of her son’s mental health challenges.
“He has severe autism and the mental capacity of a 3-year-old,” Helen said in a Facebook post dated April 27. “Police were called and four or five of them surrounded him at Alicante Airport … they physically touched him without his awareness and his doll, which caused his meltdown.”
“My poor Leo … he is now petrified and stuck in Alicante. Shame on you Ryanair you are a disgrace,” she added in another Facebook post dated April 27.
My poor Leo is at Alicante airport and they wanted to charge to take his doll on board .. he has had a huge autistic…
The mother believes the confrontation could have easily been avoided if staff had a basic understanding of autism and recognized the lanyard the carer wore to alert airport staff Leo was disabled.
“Special assistance had been requested as not all disabilities are visible but we were told no by Ryanair because Leo can walk,” she said. “He had to be then taken to the airport doctor and medicated as he was so distressed. Ryanair off-loaded the luggage and offered them no other way to get home, shrugging shoulders saying no flights til next Tuesday.”
HE’S FINALLY ON THE PLANE! This is my son Leo he is 15 he has severe autism and the mental capacity of a 3 year old…..
Ryanair responded to Estella’s remarks on social media that the carrier should consider training all staff in how to deal with autistic passengers.
“We are sorry to hear this. Please submit a complaint here https://contactform.ryanair.com and our customer service department to investigate,” a Ryanair Customer Service Officer wrote in a Twitter post.
@Ryanair Your company seriously needs to look at training staff to understand Autism. This is a disgrace 😡
— firstname.lastname@example.org (@helenwakefiel11) April 27, 2019
We are sorry to hear this. Please submit a complaint here https://t.co/uBey6h6Srp and our customer service department to investigate.
— Ryanair (@Ryanair) April 27, 2019
The airline disputes Helen’s allegations, explaining neither Leo nor his carer ever made it to the boarding gate in time for departure.
“This teenage passenger and his carer were provided with special assistance by Alicante airport after checking in. All such assistance in Alicante is provided by the Airport Authority,” a Ryanair spokesperson told The Sun.
The spokesperson claimed Leo actually became agitated and aggressive toward his carer at passport control, after which the pair decided not to travel and were instead taken to the airport medical assistance team where Leo was sedated.
“As these two passengers never arrived at the Ryanair boarding gate their luggage was offloaded at the request of Alicante passport control staff, who advised Ryanair’s gate agents that they had decided not to travel,” the spokesperson said. “These two passengers did not arrive at the boarding gate and, therefore, they were not ‘denied boarding’ and neither were they charged for any hand luggage.”
The carer eventually took Leo to a nearby competitor Jet2 whose staff were more than happy to help arrange another flight.
“They stayed with Leo from when they bought new tickets at the desk and sat on the floor with him as he was so frightened to board the plane, trying to calm and reassure him. He was in a wheelchair at this point due to them medicating him,” Helen said. “Jet2 Cabin Crew [Member Ellie] sat on the floor calming him … and talking to him … she was amazing.”
The Jet2 captain also came to check on Leo’s wellbeing according to the mother.
“Please accept my thanks from the bottom of my heart,” Helen said. “Please everyone share this for me, I would be so grateful and really want to show the level of compassion and outstanding customer service Jet2 have shown.”
Update on Leo .. Bought more tickets with Jet2 .. they have given him a full row of seats and wavered the case charge….
The mother’s Facebook post has already attracted more than 38,000 likes, 76,000 shares, and 14,000 comments.