Disabled composer complains of British Airways ordeal

Disabled composer complains of British Airways ordeal


norman lebrecht

November 25, 2017

From Gil Dori:


On October 16th I was supposed to fly from Phoenix to Tel Aviv via London. I never made it on this flight, though, because BA gate agents proactively denied me from boarding before the gate was closed, stating that it would take too long to load my mobility scooter. The supervisor at the airport even admitted that if I were an able bodied person, they would have treated me differently, allowing me to board the plane. This blatant discrimination was only a part of the maltreatment I experienced at the hands of BA.

I checked in at the counter two and a half hours before the flight. I was accompanied by my good friend, who always helps me when I fly out of Phoenix. Normally, he receives a gate pass, which allows him to go through security with me, because only he can assist me with things skycaps can not, such as standing up, and going to the bathroom. Doing those is crucial before I fly, especially before long distance flights. This time, however, the person who was in charge that evening (as the supervisor was on call), refused to issue a gate pass for my friend. We tried to explain how important it is for my health, but to no avail. Seeing that we were not able to reason with the person in charge, I resorted to stay with my friend until the very last moment which will give me enough time to pass through security and be at the gate by the time I was requested.

Unfortunately, TSA experienced difficulties, and I was in line for security check longer than usual. BA gate agents knew my whereabouts. As I was waiting in line, I was approached by two TSA agents who searched for me on behalf of BA. However, instead of sending someone to help me through security, which often happens with passengers who need special assistance, the person in charge called the supervisor, and they both decided to deny me from boarding the plane. Shortly after this decision was made, I was approached by a third TSA agent—not even a BA personnel—who delivered the message from the gate, saying that I missed my flight.

Only when I went back to the check in counter to rebook my flight, I discovered that not only BA did not have the decency and courtesy to send their own employee, but that the information they gave me was false. To my dismay, I found out that boarding was still in progress at the time I received the message, so I certainly did not miss my flight when it happened. The person in charge confirmed that boarding started four minutes ahead of schedule, and that she called the supervisor to consult about my situation ten minutes after boarding started. Five minutes afterwards, they decided to deny me from boarding the plane.

When I asked the person in charge to explain this decision, she stated that she made the assumption that I will not make it to the gate on time, and even if I would, loading my wheelchair will cause a delay. Moreover, she refused to let me speak to the supervisor on the phone, even though the latter was on call.

The next day, I confronted the supervisor about her statement, and he even added that this decision was made only due to the fact I use a wheelchair. He mentioned that if any other person who does not use a wheelchair were in the same situation, their decision would have been to allow that person to board the plane as long as the gate is open.

I truly believe this whole ordeal could have been avoided entirely had the gate agents were not so indifferent to my plight. Unfortunately, they chose to not only treat me poorly as a passenger, but also to discriminate against me on the basis of my physical disability.

Unfortunately, BA continues to deal with my case badly and disrespectfully, not considering its gravity seriously. Only after a month from filing a complaint, I received a reply from BA Costumer Relation. Their response was filled with cheap platitudes–about their highly trained employees and about doing all they can to make travel easy and comfortable–but not a single sincere apology to be seen. I kept writing them, of course, but all their emails read the same, with ready-made phrases, as if they were generated by a program that responds to key words in the body of the text.

All The responses I have received, so far, are under the assumption that I complain about, and seek compensation for, the delay in security that caused me to miss the flight. However, the delay is not the issue. I am not expecting an airline to delay flights for passengers who are held up at security, nor do I ask compensation for the delay. What I do pursue, is to right the wrongdoings made by BA– the discriminatory treatment I have received, and the insulting way they handle the situation. It is for this humiliation I seek compensation.



  • Ellon Carpenter says:

    Thank you for bringing this to the attention of your readers, Norman. Dr. Gil Dori is a friend of mine, and is one of the most uncomplaining, sweet-natured, generous (not to mention talented!) persons I know. The treatment of him by British Airways and the security gate person (who would not allow Gil’s friend to accompany him to help him with the most basic human tasks) is abominable. The company (and Sky Harbor airport in Phoenix) needs to be held accountable for their intolerable behavior towards Dr. Dori.

  • Oded Zehavi says:

    IN Addition. Gil Is a wonderful composer. He travels a lot and his music is in demand on both sides of the ocean. and Yes, someone shall put the )(*&)(*& of this “Very British Airline” in their place.

  • V. Lind says:

    With the fullest respect to Slipped Disc, this story needs to be brought to the attention of a more major purveyor of news. I would suggest BBC News and one or more of the broadsheets. And if there are any Consumer Associations in the UK, they ought to be informed. I gather Mr. Dori is American, but the offending institution in British and he has every right to complain to every useful organ in the UK.

    • Nick says:

      An appalling situation handled by people with clearly zero interest in the needs and requirements of a disabled passenger. This reminds me too much of the case of the Vietnamese/American doctor on the United Chicago/Louisville commuter flight who was forcibly dragged off the plane. The fact that another passenger had filmed the frightening episode meant it very quickly became headline news around the world. The doctor ended up with a full apology from the airlines’s CEO and a damages settlement of more dollars than I can possibly imagine.

      V. Lind is 100% correct. This should be brought to much wider attention. Is there no journalist reading this blog who can take up the matter? The BA staff/contracted staff at Phoenix should apologise personally and all be re-educated in how to treat disabled passengers. BA’s CEO (if I described him and his dumbing down policies as I would like, I expect NL would be forced to censor it) should also make a full and very public apology. He should already have done so long before now, but internal complaints about this dreadful airline’s staff behaviour get you nowhere, no matter how often you write. If you read the Skytrax airline review site, it is clear that this once proud airline is now worse in many respects than a budget carrier.

    • Heini says:

      Is BA british anymore? It’s owned by IAG, a merger between BA and Iberia, they own Air Lingus too and 20% of the shares are owned by Qatar airways.

      • Una says:

        And BA use local ground staff from host countries, not necessarily home British people where you check in. BA is just a name. It was run by Willy Walsh for some time, an Irishman, possibly with a British passport but probably as far as Britishness goes for any Irishman –
        I can say that as I’m thoroughly Irish by background myself so not intending racism! Either way a very unfortunte and totally unnecessary experience. See if American Airlines are any better as they are also a BA partner as well!

  • Justin Kennedy says:

    Dr. Dori is a colleague of mine too. In addition to being a fantastically talented composer, he creates music and sound art that gives agency to handicapped individuals to participate in music/sound making.

    As one can see from the article, British Airways directly violates the Air Carrier Access Act, which states, “No air carrier may discriminate against any otherwise qualified handicapped individual, by reason of such handicap, in the provision of air transportation.” By their own admission, British Airways would have treated Dr. Dori differently if he wasn’t handicapped.

    There are certainly other cases of British Airways treating disabled passengers unfairly. Athena Stevens serves as one very well-documented example but there are more if you dig deeply.

    I will avoid flying on British Airways until this manner is resolved properly with Dr. Dori.

  • Baruch Meir says:

    Sue the airline Gil. They don’t deserve anything else for how you were treated and you should definitely seek compensation. There are many attorneys that would be happy to take on your case. Perhaps next time they will think twice before behaving like this.

  • BillG says:

    It sounds to me that others have hit it on the head with the advice of seeking legal advice. I do know that the US, Americans with Disability Act (ADA) does look most unfavorably upon such situation. I do not know if the Federal Aviation Administration Regulations supersede those of the ADA. Good lawyer should be able to sort that out and get British Airways to settle.

  • Carrie Page says:

    Did you file a complaint with a CRO or the DOT? There are time limits on these complaints, unfortunately, and the information is not well publicized to the general public. Here is some more information: https://www.nad.org/resources/transportation-and-travel/air-travel/complaints-resolution-official/