It is an accepted commercial airline practice to board passengers who need assistance first followed by able-bodied last. The drill is for airport staff to push wheelchairs on board the aircraft while the other passengers patiently wait for them to be settled before they are allowed to board. Conversely, when the aircraft lands, those who need help are expected to remain in their seats until all the relatively fit passengers decant; it is all common sense.
On a recent trip from Cyprus to Dubai before the new Larnaca Airport was opened, a huge English gentleman made his presence felt long before he reached the departure lounge by issuing loud and unnecessary orders to his chair pusher. When he was parked by the row of seats nearest the ground staff desk he began to engage anyone who was prepared to listen to him in conversations, which consisted of personal questions, followed by unwelcome opinions about anything tenuously connected with the original question but always in a very loud and intrusive voice. “Do you live in Cyprus or just visiting? Oh I didn’t like Cyprus, food was awful”. “Ever been to Dubai? My first time, can’t say I am looking forward to it”. What are you reading? I don’t like fiction, find it boring”. On and on he went. I was hoping he would not engage me in an exchange and at the same time I was preparing to put him in his place if he had.
The old airport did not have a jetty so passengers were bussed to their planes. When the bus reached the plane stand, the Englishman was asked to wait until the special platform lift arrived but he wasn’t having any of it; he got out of his wheelchair and ran up the steps like an 18 year old who had just swallowed 3 cans of Red Bull energy drink.
The three and half hour flight was dominated by the irritating Englishman presence who made an absolute nuisance of himself by constantly talking to anyone and everyone in his loud voice and offering asinine opinions on every subject imaginable. The cabin crew deserved medals for their patience in the face of unbearable demands, complaints and constant attention seeking.
When the plane finally landed at Dubai International Airport, the senior steward welcomed us to Dubai, told us the local time and outside temperature then urged the infirm to remain seated until all other passengers had left the aircraft.
The Englishman sprang to his feet, gathered his hand luggage and almost ran out of the plane ahead of all of us, at the bottom of the jetty there were 3 airport staff standing on the side patiently waiting for all mobile passengers to leave before they unfolded their wheelchairs and entered the aircraft to collect their infirm passengers. Our Englishman bellowed his orders to one of them to “set the damn thing up so I can sit in it”, thus holding all of us behind him while he settles his big, fat frame in the wheelchair and pointed the way up the jetty to the hapless staffer, as though he could wheel him in any other direction. As they disappeared in to the distance I could still hear his booming voice contaminating the entire airport terminal for many minutes.
I wonder how it is possible to ask for and get a wheelchair without having to prove you need one like our English friend who clearly could walk unaided.