A Rough Experience with SilkAir

So previously we blogged about Jetstar Asia’s appalling customer service with a passenger with a disability. However, it seems like poor customer service, isn’t relegated only to the budget airline world.

Today, we share with you the experience of Mr Dennis Rumley (a frequent flier) who flew with Singapore Airlines with his wife Hilary, who is a paraplegic and wheelchair user.

Despite the top-notch service that they usually receive with the airline, their trip to Penang proved to be the exception. Here’s the experience that Mr Rumley shared with us:

I have been a Singapore Airlines frequent flyer for more than 40 years and have always preferred SIA [and especially Business Class SIA] wherever possible. Almost always, the flights, the service, the food, the crew and the ground staff have been first-rate.

However, my wife, Hilary [a paraplegic and wheelchair user unable to walk] and I
recently visited Penang on SIA and had a repeated and extremely disappointing and distressing experience, especially, but not solely, with the quite incompetent ability of the airline ground staff to enable my wife to get into and out of her aircraft seat into and out of Singapore and Penang. This is despite our making it very clear before we travelled that we needed appropriate assistance. This level of incompetence [a result we strongly believe is as a result of little or very poor SIA training and unsuitable equipment to deal with disabled airline travellers] also resulted in my sustaining a back injury even before our holiday [covering Christmas, our wedding anniversary and New Year] at the E & O in Penang had actually begun. My back injury is now being treated by my doctor in Perth and will take some time to fully recover. Furthermore, as we discovered on our return to Perth, the Penang and Singapore ‘seat transfers’ resulted in a potentially serious injury to my wife’s lower back causing the skin to be broken and a potential infection to occur. She is also currently being treated for this in Perth.

The first section of our Business Class flight, however, was fine. All of the ground staff in Perth were excellent. They were well mannered and appeared to be well trained and aware of all relevant wheelchair-user-flyer issues.

The connection to Penang was fairly tight [but was subsequently delayed], but the staff member meeting us was excellent and very helpful. The first problem, however, that we had was when my wife was being assisted by the ground staff into her SilkAir aircraft seat. One of the ground staff called out that Hilary was slipping from his grasp and I instinctively moved forward quickly to help her and in the process very badly strained my back. Hilary’s back was also slightly grazed by the seat during this process. Several aircrew and passengers were witness to this overall incident.

Having alerted the aircrew to the condition of my back before landing in Penang, they very methodically ensured that Hilary’s seat transfer was quite satisfactory. However, having paid more than AUD$7000 for our flights and with the prospect of another 2 weeks at the E & O for an addition of more than AUD$4000, my back and general demeanour in a long-planned celebration holiday were very seriously impaired. I thought [incorrectly at the time] that back rub and taking it easy for 2 weeks might help the back slowly come good, but I was mistaken. I thus sought treatment for it with my Perth doctor yesterday. It will take some time to fully recover.

The first part of our return journey [Penang-Singapore on SilkAir] was especially problematical in terms of Hilary’s transfer into the aircraft seat. The ground staff member in charge of the aircraft wheelchair was no less than
hysterically incompetent. He had no idea whatever of the use of the  aircraft wheelchair, its braking system or anything else but insisted in a repeatedly very shrill voice what needed to be done. My wife did her best to calm him down and to instruct him on what was required. Even then, it took some minutes before normality was reached and we exited the aircraft. A young female ground staff member (Shreener?) was especially helpful here.

The final leg of our SIA journey [Singapore-Perth] was no less eventful
regarding Hilary’s access to her seat. Yet again, another arrogant, ignorant male who
clearly had little or no training was determined to demonstrate his incompetence in a loud voice all the way to the aircraft door. He was then joined in an all-male shouting chorus by the aircraft steward who equally had no idea of what to do [As an aside, if passengers behave like this on aircraft they can be evicted, but not staff?]. Hilary and I managed to calm down both of these men and instructed them on what needed to be done by way of transfer from wheelchair to airline chair and then on to the aircraft seat. However, during both of these transfers, once again my wife’s lower back was scratched [she has no feeling in her lower back and thus would have felt no sensation]. As noted above, this [now multiple] injury is currently being treated by our Perth doctors.

On arrival in Perth, however, all was calm, competent and caring. The ground staff
were extremely good and professional and there was no problem exiting the aircraft.

The lessons from these very unfortunate incidents are quite clear:

  1. All SIA and SilkAir [ground and air] crew need to be properly trained in
    handling disabled passengers. We can help in this regard if you wish.
  2. All ground and air crew need to be trained to keep their tempers in a crisis
    situation that they have created due to their lack of competence. During my 40
    years+ as an SIA Frequent Flyer I have never been shouted at so much my
    ground and aircrew as during this current trip.
  3. Since the overall enjoyment of our holiday was severely jeopardised by
    Singapore Airlines, Hilary and I believe that we require appropriate
    compensation for both our injuries and for the way we were treated by the
    crews during our trip. We are considering taking legal advice on this matter
    but would much prefer to come to some appropriate, mutually-negotiable
    settlement. We are happy to discuss what this might entail. I can suggest an
    ‘ideal’ if pressed.
  4. If we are unable to achieve 3 above, then my long-term confidence in SIA will
    have been utterly destroyed, my sense of customer loyalty will have
    evaporated and we will have no choice but to seek legal advice.

Dennis Rumley

The Disabled People’s Association will be reaching out to Singapore Airlines to give them a right of reply for this particular experience.

Stay tuned for updates!

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