Mum of Wigan battler Jack Johnson blasts travel firm over airport fiasco

The family of Wigan charity icon Jack Johnson say he and they were left humiliated airport staff who questioned whether he was really disabled.

Friday, 3rd August 2018, 8:12 am
Updated Friday, 3rd August 2018, 10:43 am
Jack Johnson at Split Airport

The youngster - the face of the Duchenne muscular dystrophy research campaign Joining Jack - has since received an apology and compensation from Jet2 after the distressing confronation at Split Airport as the tearful boy and his parents tried to get home from a holiday in Croatia.

The 10-year-old son of former Wigan Warrior Andy Johnson has become the centrepoint of a charity crusade which has won acclaim from the general public and a great many famous sportspeople.

But he was not recognised at the airport and, due to a paperwork processing cock-up, staff felt the need to question whether he really did suffer from an incurable degenerative disease because no accommodation had been made for his special wheelchair on the flight.

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One of the waiting areas at Split Airport

It was only when Coronation Street star and family friend Anthony Cotton (who plays Sean Tully in the soap) intervened that progress was made and the family allowed on board.

His furious mum Alex took to social media to complain and has written to Jet2 Steve Heapy and general service manager Chris Flannigan.

She wrote: “As a family we need and love our holidays because of the underlying heartbreak we live with every day as we watch our son’s muscles waste away. Eventually it will be impossible for us to take Jack on holiday and make the precious memories we cherish with him.

“Incompetence and error at Jet 2 holidays has ruined our holiday.

“I can honestly say we have never experienced anything as shambolic and as humiliating for our son as our flight home from Split with Jet 2.

“From what I can see on your website we did everything that we should have done to prepare you and inform you about our son being on the flight.

"I called Jet 2’s disabled assistance line as soon as we booked and spent a long time explaining about Jack’s condition and giving all the details of the disability scooter he uses.

"I even double checked you had all the information. I didn’t want us to run into any problems as Jack hates people staring and attention being drawn to him. It’s hard for him being a kid that is different. We followed the procedures on our part.

“When we arrived at Split airport and attempted to check in, we were told by a clearly stressed check in desk operative that they had no records of Jack, his disability or his requirements.

"The operative then informed us that two days’ notice is required to be able to put a motorized wheelchair/scooter on the aircraft and that we might not be able to fly.

"The operative was talking to her colleagues in Croatian and was clearly not happy. By this time the packed departures area was getting busier and people were getting frustrated with waiting. We felt as though we were a huge burden.

“The operative then asks ‘Do you have proof your son is disabled?’

“I didn’t know whether to be sarcastic and say no he loves to ride a disability scooter and pretends to be disabled for fun, or to cry and shout he has a bloody terminal muscle-wasting condition.

“The only reason I kept my cool was that I could see the embarrassment and anxiety rising in Jack. The indignity of the situation was awful. He was crying and saying I just want to go home to my grandma’s. Even the couple behind us said they couldn’t believe we had been asked that.

“We painfully have to talk about the full extent of Jack’s condition in front of him. The highlight is me having to show the check in operative his blue disabled badge to prove he is disabled.

"In the UK I am sure there would be disciplinary action for asking that question and in the US, Jack’s human rights would have been breached. The poor kid wanted the ground to eat him up.

“My husband then leaves us to find the Jet 2 rep who also has no details about us. She was clearly mortified at my family’s distress and what we were going through. She was immediately on the phone and then had to admit that Jet 2 had not sent any paperwork.

“We spent almost two hours between the check in desk and the disabled waiting area, where many of the passengers who had been enjoying several alcoholic drinks had conveniently fallen asleep.

"We did not get to sit down as there was no space or air conditioning. My husband and my younger son, who is six had to find wheelchairs to sit in. Tempers are frayed.

“I tweeted you out of frustration as I want you to see the distress you were causing, and our lovely friend Anthony Cotton stepped in to try to help. If he had not stepped in, I wonder if you would you have reacted in the same way?

“Your staff at the airport were completely clueless on how to handle Jack and his disability scooter.

“It was a complete farce with my family being stopped every two minutes and being told we could go no further. The rep had to be called for again when we were told we couldn’t go through security.

“As a mother my job is to protect and nurture my child. Yesterday I had to stand by and watch as he was completely humiliated. You have left him demoralized. You are definitely not the ‘package holiday company you can trust’.

“I begrudgingly have had to spend a great deal of money on the flight home in treats in a bid to put a smile back on my son’s face. I can honestly say I am fuming.”

Mrs Johnson questioned what disability and inclusion training Jet2 give staff and people representing it, suggesting “you clearly have a lot of work to do in this area.”

She added that she had held off publishing her letter after Jet 2 accepted full responsibility for what happened to him and apologised but then she felt “completely insulted” by the compensation offered - a voucher of £250 later increased to £300 off our next family holiday with them and a tour around the airport for Jack so they can show him how he should have been treated.

She said: “Moving from £250 to £300 shows how they were trying to get away with paying us as little as possible and how they do not understand the damage they have caused. I guess it’s about profit margins for them – the damage cannot be measured in monetary terms.

“I don’t want the money. feel on principle I would rather let everyone know what happened to Jack and how he has been left feeling humiliated and demoralised by the incident. I want lessons to be learnt from the way he was treated so it never happens to anyone again.”

A Jet2 spokesman said: “We are extremely sorry to hear of this experience, and we appreciate that it has been very distressing for Jack and his family.

"We have been in contact to unreservedly apologise for the upset caused, and we would like to reassure Jack, his family, and all our customers, that this is not our normal standard of service.

"Although this is an isolated incident, we have learnt a number of lessons and we are urgently reviewing all our procedures to ensure that this does not happen again.”