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Disabled on P&O Ferries.

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Well, I recently crossed the channel as a disabled driver with P&O, with mixed results.  The outward trip from Calais was poor, but the return trip was fine.

When booking I went through all the steps to say I was disabled and needed a ship’s wheelchair, and this was confirmed by P&O.  We turned up at the Calais check in 90 minutes before the scheduled departure and confirmed that I needed a ships wheelchair and disabled assistance to get off the car deck.  We were given a windscreen sign for a wheelchair and were directed to a special lane to await the ferry.  We were also told that the ferry was on time.  So far, so good, but this was not to last.

We parked at the front of the lane and were joined behind by cars with pets.  Being at the front we could see a ferry in front of us loading lorries.  The lorry loading stopped and five minutes before our departure time the barriers were closed to that ferry!  We then saw the ferry depart at our departure time - we were concerned, but there was nobody around to ask what was happening.  It was a freezing cold day with a strong wind, and after 90 minutes waiting in the car we were somewhat cold to put it mildly.  I could not go to the cafe as I did not have my wheelchair with me.  I was taking my broken down electric scooter back to the UK for repair, and I was going to use the boat's wheelchair.

We waited with reducing patience, and no info, until about an hour after our scheduled departure time, when a bloke wandered over and told us to get ready.  Apparently the ferry had been delayed outside the port, and we were to depart on the correct ferry.  He checked that I was disabled and needed the ships wheelchair.  No additional instructions.

Finally we were allowed to drive on board.  I became a bit suspicious that we were being waved forward too quickly and tried to stop at the ferry ramp entrance and also on the car deck, but was rather forcefully waved on.  We were finally parked right at the front end of the car deck, with cars close to us on each side.  Being disabled I need to get the car door wide open to get out, and this was not possible.  Luckily the car beside me had room outside him, and the driver was very helpful in that he backed and forwarded to shuffle his car sideways to give me room to get out.

Once out of the car there was no sign of any wheelchair or assistance.  Holding onto my wife, we managed a few steps through the cars till we saw a seaman about 20 metres away waving lorries into parking spaces.  I called to him for help, saying “Hello hello” while hanging onto my wife, shaking and shivering from the cold, and trying hard not to fall over, but he ignored me.  I called louder, thinking he had not heard me over the noise of lorry engines and car deck fans, only to see him come over and in a very threatening manner with hunched up shoulders and clenched fists to say “DO NOT RAISE YOUR VOICE TO ME SIR!”.  Afraid of being punched, or threatened with some other action I spluttered “But but but I was only trying to attract your attention to get some help, there is supposed to be a wheel chair here to help me, where is it?”.  Reply “I HEARD YOU PERFECTLY WELL SIR.  NOBODY TOLD ME ABOUT A WHEELCHAIR AND THERE ISN’T ONE HERE, IT’S NOT MY JOB THAT’S THE STEWARDS’ JOB.  THE LIFT IS OVER THERE”.  Whereupon he left as I looked after him disbelievingly.  My wife helped me to the lift, and we arrived at a bar whereupon I staggered to a chair and sat down.

Things started to get better then.  I must have been in a bit of a state as the bar steward came over and offered me a drink on the house.  Regretfully I declined as I was driving, but I asked him if I could speak to someone in authority.  The Chief Steward arrived promptly and heard my tale.  He was sympathetic, apologised and insisted that we be taken to the Club lounge.  I tried to say that was not necessary (because I have never been on the P&O Ferries and I wanted to look around and also buy a late breakfast as we had not breakfasted in the hotel, preferring to eat on the ferry – but I did not say this).  The Chief Steward was very kind and well meaning and he insisted we went to the Club Lounge.  A wheelchair arrived and I was escorted to the Club lounge through a crew lift and crew pantries.  We were offered free coffee, tea, and biscuits and invited to make ourselves comfortable until the Chief Officer arrived to hear our story.  This was fine, and the Club lounge was fine, but we were trapped there.  This suited my wife who plonked herself down and dived into the coffee and newspapers, but as an ex seaman and Master Mariner, I was curious about the boat.  Still you cannot have everything, and if wife was happy then so was I.

 The Second Officer (in charge of the car deck loading) arrived and seemed rather subdued and pale.  He heard our story and confirmed it.  He had been to the car deck and seen where we were parked, and seen the other car skewed out of it’s lane.  The part the seaman played was glossed over with a comment that this would be reviewed.  He advised us that if I had been stuck in the car and unable to get out, then the ferry could not have sailed until I was out of the car.  This could have been somewhat difficult to say the least.

Ha also advised that communications had broken down, and that P&O accepted all blame.  It seemed that we had been mixed with the cars containing pets, and the car deck did not know that was a disabled person in our car.  (So much for the windscreen sign!)

The best advice he gave was that when boarding have the hazard lights flashing, whether asked to or not, and stop on arrival at the car deck, even if you are waved on, to ensure that the car deck staff know that there is a disabled person in the car, and which side of the car they are in.

After that we were well looked after.  On arrival at Dover a steward pushed me through all the lifts, and as close to the car as he could.  He then helped me through the close parked cars till we got to our car, and ensured that I was able to get into the car.

I have to say that once off the car deck, the ship’s staff could not have been more helpful.

I would also say that the ship’s wheelchairs are not the self propelled type.  They have small wheels with automatic brakes, and thus the person in the wheelchair does not have any freedom of movement.  It is essential to have someone to push the wheelchair and to hold the brakes off.

The return Dover Calais crossing on a different ship was entirely different.  While in our special lane a seaman wandered over before boarding and asked us to put our hazard lights on, and to stop when we arrived on the car deck.  We boarded the car deck with hazard lights flashing, were stopped on arrival in the car deck by a SMILING seaman, we were put into an excellent parking space right beside the lift, and there was a stewardess waiting with a wheelchair.  She pushed me up to the passenger decks, and we were left free to roam.  I think she would have stayed with me for the whole crossing if I had needed her, but wife "volunteered" to push me.  While on board, the staff frequently asked me if I was ok, and they could not have been more helpful.  On arrival at Calais I was taken back to the car, and helped into the car.

Hope this helps others on P&O Ferries.

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Thanks for telling us about your experiences, David - I think it will be really useful for other disabled travellers.  It would be nice to think that your experiences on the first leg had result in an all-round b***ocking, and reminders as to the correct protocol passed throughout the fleet......[:)]  Let's hope it lasts.

Chrissie (81)

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I can sympathise with you when everything seemed to go wrong. The secret, as you eventually found out, is to always use your hazard warning lights.

We recently travelled Caen/Portsmouth and returned Portsmouth/St Malo. On both occasions we were parked one lane away from a lift BUT other vehicles containing able bodied passengers then occupied the lane between us and the lifts. On the outward journey disabled people were trying to open doors wide enough to get out whilst the vehicles in the inside lane were moving forward. I shouted to (not at) one of the loading stewards to say it was very dangerous. He then stopped the inside lane and let all of the disabled passengers get out and cross to the lifts. Of course next morning it proved impossible to get into our car because of the proximity of other cars and we had to wait for that lane to clear.

On the return journey cars containing disabled people were allowed to board very early with no problems experienced in exiting the vehicles. Unfortunately next morning we experienced the same problems in trying to get back into the car.

P&O needs to get it's act together when dealing with disabled people.

We were brushed off with platitudes on the outward journey when I complained at the main passenger reception and heard nothing consequently. As a consequence we'll think twice before travelling with P&O again.

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I am again crossing from Calais to Dover and return next month, and I will let you know how I get on.

I do miss SpeedFerries.  We always travelled with them, and never had any problems at all.  They were always very helpful to disabled travellers, but they had to tighten up and insist that disabled passengers had a blue parking badge, as their system of early loading, and parking on the ramp was being abused by able bodied passengers.

The pirates won!


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