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Nikki Emerson, 29, a British para-athlete was on an Emirates flight on her way to the Commonwealth Games in Australia when members of the crew told her she would have to wait up to one hour to use the restroom until after the food and drink service was complete. Emerson, who is slated to compete in the T54 1500m and T54 marathon events at the Games this week, told the BBC that the crew said they would assist her once they were available.
British Paralympian Nikki Emerson says airline staff told her she would “upset other passengers” by “climbing on the floor” to get to her seat from the toilet rather than wait an hour for assistance.
— BBC Sport (@BBCSport) April 3, 2018
Emerson, who’s been confined to a wheelchair since 2008 after a near-fatal car accident according to The Daily Mail, did not let the crew stop her from using the restroom, though. She successfully made it to the bathroom, but upon exiting, she said a member of the crew was waiting outside the lavatory door. “There was an air stewardess waiting outside for me when I came out to tell me this wasn’t okay,” Emerson said. “She said, ‘You can’t be on the floor, it’ll upset people, let me help you to walk’ and I said, ‘well I can’t walk at all’ and that obviously caused an issue.”
Emerson added that the reason she believes the crew wanted her to wait is because they thought it would make the other passengers uncomfortable to see someone climbing on the floor of the aisle. “In my mind, the only reason that should make the other passengers uncomfortable is because it would show them that the airline that they are travelling with doesn’t have adequate provisions for disabled people, but I don’t know if that was what the air stewardess was concerned about.”
The Paralympian said she doesn’t think it’s acceptable to have to use the bathroom on someone else’s schedule just because of her disability. She said she understands that it can be shocking to people to see someone crawling on the floor of an airplane, but for her, it’s the only way she can successfully use the restroom on an airplane without her wheelchair.
“This isn’t a one airline specific thing,” she said. “Sometimes it is specific airports, so at Gatwick I’ve been told I need to hand over my passport to a complete stranger because some of the gates aren’t accessible. They get an assistant to take your passport and go and do some of the security protocol for you which sort of takes your independence away.” Emerson said she doesn’t look forward to traveling, even though she’s often in the air, because airlines and airports force her to rely on others.
Emerson added that a senior Emirates employee later apologized and said the airline would be investigating.
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