I blogged about my not just poor but disgraceful treatment by Singapore Airline cabin staff on 13 November during my flight, Heathrow to Singapore. I very unpleasant start to travel I had looked forward to for months.
The experience was so bad I put in a formal complaint to the airline who did respond apologising for their inappropriate treatment of me as a traveller with specific documented needs and also for the inappropriate way a male staff member spoke to my mother, suggesting it was her job to ensure my safekeeping and safety onboard the flight.
The fact is I sat on a Singapore Airlines plane for 13+ hours not knowing where anything was, that includes, safety information, toilets, no access to entertainment system, no access to assistance at all. The 13+ hour flight was a nightlight, I am completely blind in the dark and as a result of aircraft noise, little hearing and no access to lipreading my experience was not just horrible but uncomfortable and unpleasant and this was acknowledged with an offer of 100 Singapore dollars as what, an apology or compensation for their terrible service, either way a complete insult and not really the point. Clearly the principal far more important.
My travel agent was informed and both they and Singapore Airlines said they had learnt from my complaint and that my return journey would be perfect, everything would be dealt with to insure my needs considered completely.
So here we are travelling back from Denpasar, Bali. Check in 3 hours before your flight they said. Three hours before my flight they had already allocated seats for the Denpasar to Singapore flight and also the Singapore to Heathrow flight and guess what WRONG again.
Seats allocated were not appropriate, once again I would not be in a position to see or hear the cabin crew.
My mum contacted the travel agent in the UK who suggested we deal with the matter in Singapore, the people at the gate in Denpasar advised they would forward details of the seats required on the Singapore to London Heathrow leg - either that was not done or Singapore Airlines have serious communication issues on the ground.
Our travel agent was also horrified by the treatment on the outbound flight and I'm told has taken the matter up with his Singapore Airlines rep, repeating my thoughts on what an insult it was to offer 100 Singapore dollars as an apology or compensation, I should add that money could be spent only with, you guessed, Singapore Airlines so insult and completely invalid to me as I’ll never travel with them again.
I suffer with anxiety at the best of times and my stomach was tied in knots, I couldn't breath and went into meltdown at the airport in Denpasar, my Mum was at my side assuring me it would be okay and that the staff had promised to provide a supportive service on the way home, sadly it was not that way.
On arriving at the check in gate the young man on the gate suggested it was our fault the seats were not right and that Singapore Airlines do not attach any priority to people with disabilities - that is nice to know!
After the most embarrassing show of ‘We got it wrong’ having staff running back and forth to the plane asking people to swap seats, none wanted to so we boarded the plane virtually last.
I found it very hard to hold things together, I was so upset, it didn't feel like I had just had a wonderful holiday, I felt anything but relaxed.
Clearly the staff had been briefed to speak to me which would have been nice had I not felt like everybody was looking at me and listening to the conversation, I just burst into tears and wants to be left alone.
Yes this time I was told about safety and emergency procedures but to be honest I wasn't listening, I was far too upset.
I know the flight attendants were trying to help but the damage was already done.
Another 13.5 hours of seeing and hearing little or nothing, I decided to try to sleep in the hope I’d open my eyes and be home.
No such luck, closed my eyes and dozed on and off anxious, I might knock somebody or something, I just wanting to be anywhere but on this aircraft.
When the lights come back on in the cabin, about 3, 3 and a half hours from home I could see enough to look around the cabin, I could see no reason why my needs had not been considered and why I hadn't I simply been allocated appropriate seating with my Mum in a row of two where I didn't have to worry about knocking into or disturbing anybody else, I might even have been able to relax and possibly got some proper sleep.
I also could not see why I was not put in the bulkhead seats considering there were places for basinets but no babies, just a row of 3 men and a woman.
How can it be that this airline considers it is ok for babies to be on a bulkhead in close proximity to emergency exits and yet I would not? Makes no sense to me at all. A baby in arms would certainly be a hazard in the event of an emergency exit, would it not? I also scanned around when my mum escorted me to the toilet that the rows of two on either side of the plane did not have anybody with special needs, people who could have easily been more comfortable in the seats I was allocated, seems its true, Singapore Airlines does not give prior consideration to those like myself with very specific needs.
On scanning the cabin further I couldn’t help but notice the detail this airline go to symbolise Christmas, lots of decorations around the cabin, more concern for look than that of passengers with specific needs! Nice!
I cannot make head nor tail of this organisation, I simply asked for ‘Reasonable Adjustments” not because I’m difficult but because I want to feel comfortable just like everybody else.
Sitting in a front row means a staff member can stand in front of me so I can at least try to lipread, be independent rather than staff having to reach over to touch me to get my attention then repeat themselves over and over, making a spectacle of me in the process. I don't mind being touched but there are people who absolutely would be insulted, this is something else the needs to be considered.
I do not know what the answer is to travelling on a plane if, like me. you inform your travel agent and the airline of your needs and this sort of thing happens, what else is there besides do not fly at all!
The staff on my flight were very good, it shows just what they can do, sadly for me it was too little too late.
Thank you to both Elaine and Michelle for all your help on SQ306, you certainly tried.
To finish up, Singapore Airlines have demonstrated me just how thoughtless and incompetent they have been when it comes to travelling as a deafblind person and I’m sure will be happy to learn I won’t ever fly with them again. Expensive tickets to be treated badly.
San Francisco had been on my long list of places to visit and I was lucky enough to go on a girls only adventure with Mum and my younger sister Lily.
Going away and out of my comfort zone can be very stressful, whether I am alone, with Unis or with others.
To deal with the anxiety I often feel I use my travel experiences as a mission to find who and what is accessible in my world.
Whilst I’m concentrating on the good, bad and acceptable it gives me something to think about rather than feel anxious.
Our journey begins at Heathrow Airport and our flight with Virgin Atlantic. Virgin were advised I am deafblind on booking and that safety instructions in large print be made available. They were also advised I am most comfortable to board first to avoid the crowds which are uncomfortable.
I was escorted to the aircraft, Mum and sister following behind. I was introduced to two staff and shown to my seat where I was made comfortable and provided with safety instructions in both braille and large print - impressive.
The nearest toilets and emergency exits were pointed out, not too far in front of me and button to call for assistance.
Very good, it would have been good to have the food menu in larger print as I did have to ask for help in choosing my meal, handy to have Mum and sister to rely on here so a little room for improvement but not bad.
It was a long journey, almost 11 hours.
It wasn’t too bad as we arrived in a warm and sunny San Francisco, 8 hours behind UK time so quite tired but adrenalised to finally be there.
This is the main reason I did not take Unis, long journey, time difference and we were only there for 6 days. It would have been a lot to ask of her so she stayed home with my Dad and had a mini break from work!
Unis always gives me a hard time when I leave her, sulks for days when I get back, it was for the best, she just doesn’t realise it!
I was disappointed with SFO Airport, it did not have an assistance lane in the arrival hall. I find crowding very stressful, especially when I am in unfamiliar surroundings, its very disorientating.
I was glad to have Mum and Lily to guide me.
I was really happy to arrive whilst it was light so I could appreciate the views from the taxi drive on our way to our hotel at Fisherman’s Wharf.
Check in was pretty painless and we were soon in the lift to our room.
A nice room but it was so dark, dark walls, dark furniture, and dark blinds. Thankfully the bedding was white so I could at least see the beds ok.
There were lots of lamps around the room but not a ceiling light so the dreaded uneven light that my eyes hate, a kind of dusky light.
I had several bumps and bruises from that room set up #ushersyndrome #issues.
I really liked the area we stayed in, it was quite easy to get around by public transport using my applewatch.
At the core of my visit was a trip to the Apple Campus in Cupertino which was a bus journey followed by a train trip. Pretty easy and pain free travel using my cane.
I was impressed with the first bus stop I needed, it had both visual and audio description of which buses go where and when. I didn't find this function at the train station but did find a very helpful employee who showed me to where I needed to be.
Yes, I am the deafblind one but I like to be as independent as possible so Mum and sister let me find out what I need to and of course if I need help they are there.
The train was great, really clear audible information from what sounded like a real person rather than the recorded voices on public transport in UK.
I liked to hear a real person sounding cheerful announcing each station as we approached it.
We disembarked at Mountain View and were met by a cheerful English driver who drove us to the Apple Campus. It wasn't too far.
Having been dropped off the driver made sure we were okay checking in and met with a couple of the staff we were meeting.
I was a quite overwhelmed to be visiting the Apple Campus, it was all quite surreal.
We got lunch and sat out in the sunshine speaking to various people from various of the teams based there and of course we discussed my http://www.mollywatt.com/blog/entry/my-apple-watch-after-5-days was an amazing experience for me.
We got to look in the newly refurbished Apple Store, I really like the shop, the lighting was warmer than lots of shops here in the UK. The new large screen was awesome. I also particularly liked the new shelving of the accessories, right height and so easily accessible, perfect.
Lastly a meeting with those who wanted to meet me, my last chance to talk about accessibility and how I and people like myself use apple products.
We were at the Apple Campus for the afternoon, time flew, it was an amazing experience, a real WOW and something I’ll never forget.
Taxi journey back to Mountain View and the train back to the City in the dark!
The train was well lit and busy but worked fine for me.
The bus journey back to Fisherman’s Wharf was straight forward once I had found the bus stop, this was not ‘Usher Friendly’, at least not the way it is here in the UK.
Bus Stops in San Fransisco are not always obvious like in the Uk. Some do have proper bus shelters, some appeared to be just poles with small numbers stuck on them or bus stop written on the road. Thankfully I wasn't alone or I would have really struggled, particularly in the dark.
On the whole public transport in San Francisco is good, however I found road crossings are not ‘Usher Friendly’.
Here we have ‘zebra crossings’ which have flashing lights and they're very obvious, even to people like myself in San Francisco there are some pedestrian crossings which I understand however there were also crossings indicated by two thick white lines about 8 feet apart, however these were not obvious to me and I wasn't sure when it was safe to cross or who's right of way it was. I was confused and Unis would have bee too.
We went shopping in San Francisco and I know all my Usher friends in the UK will be interested to hear that both Hollister and Abercrombie and Fitch had decent lighting, not the awful darkness we endure in their shops in the UK.
I used my cane a lot in the City centre and on the whole felt very safe. We navigated around on foot to the various galleries and places of interest using my Applewatch.
As we were only there for a short time we decided to book a one day bus tour around the City. This was a disappointment as on boarding the bus I advised the driver of my deafness, I was not offer a loop system or anything else to give me access to the onboard guide. I definitely missed out on the audio, I relied on Mum and Lily to fill me in on what was being said. I’m pretty sure we all missed out because of that.
Fisherman’s Wharf was a buzzing area, we walked there and enjoyed some sightseeing and a boat trip around the bay, under the Golden Gate Bridge and around Alcatraz. It was a beautiful sunny day and I was lucky enough to actually see sea lion’s swimming alongside the boat. I felt really lucky to actually see them as each time Lily or my Mum pointed to them and I looked they were gone. I felt so sad but it was almost as if they knew I hadn't seen them as they popped up right in my field of vision just before we docked, it completely made my day.
I found San Francisco to be a friendly place and I would love to return, see and experience what I missed.
I know people with Usher Syndrome that live there who had hoped I was doing a public presentation, sadly not but maybe one day, fingers crossed.
We left our hotel with heavy hearts but I was looking forward to being reunited with Unis.
The check in with Virgin Atlantic at SFO Airport was straight forward and thankfully security not too stressful.
Again I was boarded first and given accessible safety instructions and made comfortable. Virgin were very good.
Now home in a very chilly Berkshire where Unis has stopped sulking and its back to normal, that said my 6 days in San Francisco have given me memories I’ll never forget.
Besides a beautiful City I got not just a visit to the Apple Campus but also to to meet and speak to some amazing people, a real WOW experience and a big thank you to those who made it happen.