Heading to Heathrow

Blog by Nicola Jura, Futures & Office Administrator

On the 13th of January we were invited to take a trip to Heathrow airport. A week before the trip I had a dry run at Epsom train station to see how my chair would fit on the train. 

I went with the Futures Group and we were joined by Graham and Amanda from QEF. Our journey was from Epsom to Paddington station, then from Paddington on the Heathrow Express.   

When we arrived at Heathrow, we met Sarah and Rachel from the Heathrow team, and Helen and Lady-Marie who are both are disability travel activist extraordinaires! Sarah explained about the flower lanyards which you can wear if you need assistance, this is optional. She also talked about the hoist which can be used on the plane to get you to your seat. 

Helen told me about her service dog and Lady-Marie gave me some tips on how to get my power chair on and off the train and how to park on the bus.

While we were having lunch, we got the chance to ask some of the questions that we had about our journey.  

Afterwards we had a Skype call with Jennene Greenall who works for Brisbane airport. We asked lots of questions. She gave us a list of things we can do in Brisbane if we decide to visit. After we asked our final questions, we went to terminal 3 to catch the train for our return to Epsom.  

I felt that the trip went well. There are things that need to be improved when it comes to access, and I hope I can go back and try the equipment on offer. I’d like to have more experiences like this in the future.     

Me getting on a bus in London and a group of us at the Paddington statue.
He has been there since 2000!
Being shown how to use the ticket machine and all us us outside Heathrow Terminal 3

You wait all day for a bus..

Travelling by bus

Bus travel is a lifeline for many people in our community. Buses are frequent, cover local routes and are often cheaper than using trains and taxis. Our Futures group have recently taken two bus journeys; one from Epsom to Kingston and one from Victoria Station to Paddington Station in London. While bus travel is convenient and offers a great deal of freedom and independence, we found some obstacles along the way.

What worked well?

  • All 8,000 London buses and the vast majority of buses operating in Surrey are classed as accessible, meaning that they can be comfortably accessed by wheelchair users (with some exceptions for extra-large electric chairs)
  • Assistance dogs are welcome on all buses too
  • There is (usually) no need to make arrangements in advance

What made it difficult?

  • Last year, changes to concessionary bus passes came into force restricting use between 9.30am and 11pm, impacting people’s ability to travel to work etc.
  • Other passengers aren’t always aware that wheelchair users take priority over pushchairs
  • Signage does not take hidden disabilities into consideration
  • The design of the wheelchair space means it can be difficult to manoeuvre the chair into position. On our bus trip from Victoria to London, the driver started to drive before we could secure our wheelchair safely
  • Buses tend to only accommodate one wheelchair, meaning that you will have to wait for another bus

Useful tips

  • If applicable, apply for a companion bus pass which will allow a companion to travel with you for free
  • Sutton Community Transport offer free travel training to increase confidence and encourage independent travel, especially among vulnerable groups (find out more here)
  • If you need to sit down, there are priority seats available
  • If using a wheelchair, allow extra time for your journey as each bus only has one designated wheelchair area. You might need to wait for a bus with a free space