Over the past months I have blogged a fair amount about British Airways both good and bad and thought a few flights further down the line it appropriate to revisit the whole "flying with guidedog" subject again.
In May I had a horrendous time with BA both outward journey and inbound. I was not with Guidedog Unis on this occasion and though on booking the airline had been informed of my deafblindness the information had failed to reach all departments and therefore my needs were not taken in to account.
British Airways took the matter very seriously and as a result changed their ticketing facility to enable deaf blind to be printed on a ticket for the first time ever, previously only deaf or blind could be recorded. It was a fantastic achievement and I am very thankful that BA took this onboard and made these important changes, as a direct result of my bad experience back in May.
Since May I have travelled several more times with British Airways but with Guidedog Unis and my experiences have been mixed, either brilliant or absolutely terrible!
The main issue again seems to be a breakdown in communication from booking to check in.
The booking can be done online, however, I always feel I need to make contact with Special Assistance or the Twitter Team to reassure myself. This shouldn't be the case but it is at the moment.
Check in should be very straight forward as all arrangements for Unis and myself have been made. We don't ask a lot, just that we can be assisted through security as crowds are particularly stressful and that we have appropriate seating.
What that means is we are as close to the aircraft exit as possible so that on arriving at our destination Unis can get out promptly and stretch her legs as she will have been squeezed into a fairly small area for a big dog, for a period of time and will need to stretch her legs - she really isn't hard work for the staff.
Sadly it seems each time I arrive at check in the staff are not aware of the procedure for assistance dogs resulting in a delay and often embarrassingly so as a queue builds whilst the staff members make calls to find out what is expected of them!
Whilst I understand they may not see an assistance dog of some kind everyday this should be something of a big deal each time I'm travelling and it happens in various airports with BA staff.
Yesterday I travelled from Heathrow to Copenhagen, it took over 20 minutes for the check in person to find help, a supervisor came and told me 'We don't see assistance dogs often' as if to say it's ok that we don't know the procedure - well it isn't ok. It is embarrassing for me and for the airline too.
The supervisor did eventually sort things out and advised the allocated seats for my rerun journey, row 21 was not appropriate and that she would look to change these, she didn't and as a result today on arriving at Copenhagen Airport I was faced with the same scenario, however, this time the lady at check in could not do enough to help. At check in she was unable to change the seating but advised she would be at the departure gate and would do all she could to sort things out.
I will admit, this did nothing for my anxiety but I felt better to know this lady was going the extra mile to help.
At the departure gate, true to her word she was with another colleague and together they were busy on the computer.
Eventually she approached me and told me she had changed the seating and we would now be travelling in row 7, so much better.
I was further relieved that both BA staff members confessed to not being 100% sure about checking in assistance dogs and that they were going to request more training for the future - music to my deaf ears.
In the future I want to be able to carry on about my business, wherever it might take me with my Guidedog, a little help and confidence.
I don't want to have sleepless nights before travelling hoping things will be ok.
I am not the only Guidedog / assistance dog owner who travels by air, we all want to be comfortable from start to finish and it really isn't the big deal it often seems to be!
Please British Airways some more training, computer systems that talk to each other and let myself and Unis my flying Guidedog travel without these unnecessary stresses.