Nikki Emerson has been a paraplegic since 2008 when her car flipped over in a near-fatal crash while driving home from uni.
Despite being told by doctors she’d never walk again, the 29-year-old has never let her disability stop her from being independent.
Her career as a British Para-athlete and wheelchair racer has taken her all over the world. She’s competed in London and Paris marathons and is set to make her debut at the 2018 Commonwealth Games this month.
But when she needed to use the bathroom during an Emirates flight to the Gold Coast, she says she was told by staff she would have to wait.
Speaking to BBC Radio 5 live, Nikki said Emirates staff said she would have to wait up to an hour for the food and beverage trolleys to make their way through the cabin until a staff member would then assist her to go to the bathroom.
So she decided to go on her own, climbing out of her seat and onto the floor before making her way to the toilet. Afterwards, Nikki was told her behaviour was “unacceptable”.
“There was an air stewardess waiting outside for me when I came out to tell me this wasn’t OK,” she said.
‘”[The stewardess] said, ‘you can’t be on the floor, it’ll upset people, let me help you to walk’ and I said, ‘well I can’t walk at all’ and that obviously caused an issue. I think the stewardesses felt it would make people uncomfortable to see someone climbing on the floor.”
In Nikki’s mind, the only reason the sight of her climbing onto the floor would’ve made other passengers uncomfortable would be because it highlighted just how challenging it is to fly with a disability and without adequate accessibility.
“As a disabled person that travels a lot I’m relaxed about doing it. It looks quite shocking when people see it but for me it’s a way I can independently get myself somewhere when I don’t have my wheelchair,” she added.
A senior member of Emirates staff has apologised to Nikki following the incident, saying the airline is investigating the matter.
After arriving in the Gold Coast, the athlete got on with preparing to compete for her country in the Commonwealth Games, but said she doesn’t think the way she was treated by airline staff was acceptable.
“I don’t think it’s acceptable that I should have to go to the bathroom on someone else’s schedule. That seems like quite a basic right.”
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