Team GB paralympic medallist denied access to Ryanair flight after pilot ‘refused’ to allow him on board

Exclusive: ‘It felt cruel and humiliating,’ says wheelchair user Matt Byrne

Adam Forrest@adamtomforrest
Thursday 06 June 2019 19:50
Matt Byrne playing for Team GB basketball team at 2012 Paralympics

A bronze-medal winning Paralympic basketball player was “refused” entry to a Ryanair flight after he was told that the pilot would not let him board.

Matt Byrne said he felt “disgusted” after being told he could not get on the flight from Dublin to Birmingham as he waited patiently on a wheelchair lift next to the plane.

The wheelchair basketball star – who won bronze for Team GB at Athens in 2004 and Beijing in 2008, and competed at the London 2012 games – is demanding an apology from the airline for refusing him access.

The 44-year-old told The Independent: “I was waiting on the lift to get on board when a member of staff said, ‘The pilot’s not taking you.’ I said, ‘What do you mean he’s not taking me?’ He said, ‘Because we’re running a bit late, he’s refusing to take you.’”

He added: “I don’t complain about much, but I was disgusted. It felt cruel and humiliating. It’s 2019 – you can’t have people doing that to you. It’s just wrong.

Matt Byrne at a Paralympic World Cup match in Manchester in 2011

Mr Byrne said he had arrived at Dublin airport at 6.45pm, leaving plenty of time to tell staff from OCS – the company that operates the lift for disabled passengers – that he required assistance to get on his flight at 8.50pm.

He said there had been “a slight delay of around five minutes” getting the lift ready to take him on board before he was told the pilot was refusing to take him on board.

After being denied his place on the plane, he had to wait over two-and-a-half hours to board the next one leaving for Birmingham.

Mr Byrne is paraplegic, meaning that he has an impairment in motor or sensory function of the lower extremities. Mr Byrne said long hours of chair sitting can increase the risk of pressure sores.

“The next flight was delayed until 11.30pm, so I didn’t finally get back home to Nottingham until 2.30am,” he said. “The whole journey from Dublin city centre took around nine hours. I could have gone to America in that time.”

He added: “I haven’t had a good explanation. The pilot must have seen me waiting on the lift. It takes five minutes to lift me on.”

“I’ve been all over the world to represent Team GB and haven’t had anything like this happen before. I certainly want to get apology. More than anything else, I want to make sure it doesn’t happen to anyone else.”

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Mr Byrne said he had received an email from Ryanair saying the company was now investigating.

A Ryanair spokesperson told The Independent: “While we regret any inconvenience caused, special assistance services at Dublin Airport are operated by OCS – at great expense to the airlines.”

A spokesperson for OCS said the company had no comment to make.

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