This website was developed to be a platform for people with disabilities to share their travel experiences for the benefit of others. The quality and reliability of wheelchair assistance on foreign airlines can range from excellent to horrible. I will share a story of an April 2015 trip I took on KLM Royal Dutch Airlines (KL), with experiences that touched every corner of the spectrum.
The trip involved four flights, which I’ll detail individually here. None of the flights involved the United States as a point of departure or arrival. I had called KLM weeks in advance and was told that my record was noted for travel with my powered wheelchair.
KL 0904, Moscow to Amsterdam, April 8
Departure from Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport (SVO) went smoothly at check-in and departure. KLM provided an escort through security to speed-up my experience there. I was able to take my power wheelchair to the aircraft’s boarding door and boarded the aircraft first, with the assistance of an aisle chair. We had an on-time departure.
Upon arrival in Amsterdam, KLM agents were unprepared to deliver my wheelchair to the gate. I was told that it would only be available for retrieval at baggage claim. Since I did not have a connection, I agreed to this and was pushed by airport assistance staff through passport control and customs. Having been told it would take no more than 20 minutes for my wheelchair to be delivered, I was incredibly frustrated when it took an hour. This delay caused me to miss my train into the city. Trains within Amsterdam must be arranged at least one hour in advance if traveling with a wheelchair.
KL 1375, Amsterdam to Bucharest, April 9
I made it to Amsterdam’s Schiphol International Airport (AMS) almost three hours before my flight’s scheduled departure. At check-in, I waited nearly 2 hours before I was given my boarding pass as the wheelchair request I had placed weeks earlier was lost. I had flown the previous day on the same ticket! I was rushed to my gate for immediate boarding. Check-in managers told me all would be handled properly for my return flights on 12 April.
Arrival in Bucharest (OTP) was a breeze. The wheelchair was delivered to the jetway before all passengers had deplaned. When it was my turn to get off, my chair was waiting for me and I was able to go through passport control and to baggage claim indepedently. This is how things should work!!
KL 1372, Bucharest to Amsterdam, April 12
Departure from Bucharest went just as smoothly as my arrival several days earlier. Assistance from check-in to the gate was offered, but I declined and went through security and immigration myself. I was first to board the aircraft, my wheelchair was stowed in the cargo hold, and we departed 5 minutes early.
Arriving in Amsterdam, after everyone had deplaned, the captain told me that it was not allowed to deliver a personal wheelchair to the gate in Holland. Citing my more than 20 experiences arriving at AMS in a wheelchair, I refused to deplane until my wheelchair was delivered to the aircraft door. This was done within 15 minutes. I left the gate area on my own and spent some time in the KLM Crown Lounge, a benefit I receive as part of my frequent flyer status with Delta Air Lines.
KL 0903, Amsterdam to Moscow, April 12
I arrived to the departure gate about an hour in advance. At Amsterdam, an additional security inspection is conducted at the gate. My wheelchair was tested again for explosives and I was cleared to enter the gate area. I was first to board the plane and turned over my wheelchair in the jetway. I expected everything to go smoothly.
With all passengers onboard and accounted for, we were ready to depart. Except, my wheelchair had somehow been misplaced at the airport. It was not in the cargo hold. It took the airline an excessive amount of time to find the wheelchair and load it onto the plane. Snacks and drinks had to be delivered for distribution to the passengers. The captain made an announcement, blaming the delay on my wheelchair. I received glaring looks from the people seated around me. The total departure delay was 1 hour, 54 minutes.
We arrived in Moscow 1 hour, 45 minutes behind schedule. The agents at the airport refused to bring my wheelchair up from the cargo hold. The captain claimed it was illegal to do so. Knowing this to be untrue, I protested, but ultimately chose to go to baggage claim. I was already delayed by two hours and was meeting a friend in the city.
Reporting this experience to KLM
I sent an e-mail concerning the trip to KLM Customer Care, hoping they might realize that changes need to be made to their disability services operation. Their response is pasted below:
Dear Mr. MORRIS,
Thank you for your message. Please accept our apologies for the inconvenience you mention.
I am sorry to learn of the difficulties you encountered at Amsterdam airport on your recent journey with us. Even when we try our maximum in taking care of all our passengers in transit, we are really sorry to learn that your transfer in Amsterdam did not go smoothly, due to the lack of assistance that you were expecting. I can assure that your comments have been logged and will be used to improve our joint services in the future.
We truly regret the inconveniences this incident brought to your journey and understand the dissatisfaction it caused you. Thus, we are pleased to send you a non-refundable voucher of $400 USD valid for one year which may be applied towards future transportation on any of the Air-France / KLM routes. You will receive this voucher by e-mail, very shortly.
Mr. Morris, while we realise we cannot erase the memory of these unfortunate circumstances, we, however hope that you will soon afford us another chance at better serving you.
Thank you for placing your trust in KLM. We hope to see you soon on our routes.
KLM Customer Care
Given that my ticket had cost less than $300, I was pleased with the $400 travel voucher as compensation, but have little faith that changes will be made to disability services. I will fly KLM again several times in June and again in July, so I am curious to see how those experiences will unfold.
Have you had an experience traveling with a wheelchair or disability on KLM? If so, share it with us in the comments below.