Deaf-blind man is hauled off Easyjet flight over ‘safety fears’

Frankie Thomson with girlfriend Katie Swinton. 
Picture: Lisa Ferguson
Frankie Thomson with girlfriend Katie Swinton. Picture: Lisa Ferguson
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A DEAF-blind man has told how he was hauled off a flight as it was about to take off after crew raised safety fears about him flying.

Frankie Thomson had fastened his seat belt and felt the engines start on the Easyjet Edinburgh to Gatwick flight when he felt a tap on the shoulder and was escorted off the plane in front of fellow passengers.

He was later told the pilot refused to fly him unaccompanied - despite jetting around Europe on his own for 35 years. The airline today admitted the captain had decided to “offload” Mr Thomson over safety concerns.

Mr Thomson, 52, who carried the Queen’s Baton at the 2014 Commonwealth Games, said he was baffled.

“I could feel people watching me wondering what I’d done. I felt people were talking about me.

“I wasn’t embarrassed or anything - just confused and thinking what was going on. I’ve never had any problems before.”

Mr Thomson’s girlfriend Katie Swinton booked his flights last October for a weekend visiting friends in London, requesting special assistance. Deaf from birth and with a degenerative eye condition that has left him severely partially sighted, he was helped through check-in and security.

But then he was led from the plane by the arm and left in the terminal trying to get an explanation as his flight took off last month.

“They said the pilot refused to fly me because I was alone,” said Mr Thomson, who spoke through a guide communicator.

“I told myself not to get too upset. Not to get too angry because I knew if I did, they’d just phone the police.”

He was put in a cab back to his girlfriend’s flat in Loanhead and stayed with a neighbour until Ms Swinton, who is also deaf, got home.

“I was so stressed and upset,” said Ms Swinton, 48, who started firing off emails to Easyjet for an explanation. “They asked me to contact them on a phone number but how could I? I’m deaf!”

Mr Thomson, who lives with guide dog Flynn in a city centre flat, is worried what precedent his experience sets, and his cause has been taken up by SNP Edinburgh East MP Tommy Sheppard.

“I was extremely shocked when Frankie came to me and I heard the details of this case,” said Mr Sheppard. “It goes against all current thinking in terms of trying to improve accessibility for people with disabilities.”

An Easyjet spokeswoman said they offered Mr Thomson assistance and free flights the next day for him and a companion. He is set to be refunded.

“Easyjet is sorry that Mr Thomson was unable to travel on his flight and understand how upsetting this would have been for him. The captain took the decision to offload him prior to departure due to concerns over his welfare after he was unable to communicate with the crew about the safety procedures. The safety and wellbeing of our passengers and crew is always Easyjet’s highest priority.”