Every year my Rotary Club organises a club outing somewhere, and this year the club is going to Vienna. This is as a result of having a Viennese Rotarian attached to the club for two years and he suggested we make a club visit there sometime. Although the Club is going for four days, we have decided to add a day on before and after their visit so that we can include things which they will not have time for such as the Wiener Riesenrad or things which we could not fit into their four days such as the Vienna State Opera.
RyanAir does not fly to Vienna so we are flying to Bratislava in nearby Slovakia and catching a coach from there to Vienna. As is always the case with RyanAir, if you obey the rules you can get a very cheap and reasonably comfortable flight. This time however we have to break one of the rules and take a checked bag with us - it is not possible to be a Rotarian for four days without taking more clothes than normal.
When we planned to go to Vienna, we had envisaged the usual sort of packed, active short visit we normally do. However, things conspire to change plans - Mrs Harvey fractured her 5th Metatarsal a few days before our departure and so we have had to hire a wheelchair for use in Vienna and we are contemplating a slightly less active time.
So this blog report now has a different focus and will try to answer the question “How wheel chair friendly is RyanAir and also Vienna?"
RyanAir Special Assistance
A number of years ago, RyanAir had the policy of charging passengers who required wheelchair assistance at the airport. Famously they were taken to court over their charges and lost - hence now they have to provide wheelchair support at airports free of charge as do all other airlines. Free-of-charge to a Ryan Air passenger does not of course necessarily mean "free of charge” because they then introduced a 50p levy on all passengers to pay for the cost of wheelchair support at airports (you need to put to one side the fact that 50p times the number of passengers they carry each year is far more than the annual cost to them of wheelchair support). This trip is therefore our chance to recover the numerous 50ps we have paid over the years.
So when we checked in for our flight to Bratislava, we filled in the “assistance required” section on the RyanAir website although I could not get their web-form to work and had to enter into a long “on-line chat” to get our need for assistance registered. Stansted Airport provides comprehensive details of its “Special Assistance” here.
Having dropped our bag at bag-drop in the airport (a vastly improved RyanAir experience), we made our way to the Special Assistance area in the main concourse. Here our pre-registration was located on the computer and we were offered the choice of:
- waiting for a member of staff to come and take us through to the plane; or since I am able bodied
- an airport wheelchair which I could push and someone would later meet us at the gate to take us to the plane.
We chose to wait (and take a selfie - I apologise because I was going to try to stop taking these) since I had no idea how the system works and did not really want to find out by trial and error.
Special Assistance get to know which gate a flight is going from before it is announced over the airport screens. So not too long after checking in at their desk, Pat was offered a wheel chair and we set off in the capable hands of one of the staff.
I had imagined that we would get in the queue at security along with everyone else but we went straight to the fast track lane and were through in minutes. We turned down the opportunity of going to Duty Free and were then taken through a locked side door into the general airside concourse thus avoiding the shops.
About 15 minute later we arrived at the (still unannounced) gate and were told that we had plenty of time for the toilet and a cup of tea.
When boarding was announced, we were checked without having to stand in the queue, taken down to the tarmac in a lift and wheeled to the aircraft steps. Our help then accompanied Pat up the steps into the aircraft (she had chosen to walk up the steps) and ensured that we were comfortable in our seats and that the crew knew we were a Special Assistance case.
At Bratislava we stayed on the plane until everyone else had disembarked, and then an ambulance arrived carrying three firemen
who came up the steps with a special wheelchair
and used this to carry Pat down the steps - I am assuming this was most enjoyable since there is a large grin on her face. We then boarded our own airport bus and with a police escort, drove to the terminal where we saw that there was a long queue waiting to go through passport control.
However we do not queues, at least we do not when we are Special Assistance, and we were taken to the front of the queue and after a quick check, straight through to baggage where our case had already arrived.
We were then wheeled to the bus stop for Vienna and told we could keep the chair until the bus arrived - just leave it at the bus stop we were told. In summary, we were very very impressed with the wheel chair support we received (on the way out).
The coach bound for Vienna arrived early and left as soon as it was obvious that all of the passengers from the Ryan Air flight had boarded and it was off through Slovakia heading for Vienna.
Although we are in the Schengen area, the old Boarder Control post still exists
but we drove straight through and only a few lorries were being pulled over for inspection. With the current refugee crisis, Austria is a bit sensitive to its borders and lorries are checked for unauthorised cargo.
The Vienna International Bus Station (a grand name for a series of bus stops on the side of the road) is on the edge of Vienna and originally this was five stops on the metro from our hotel but now was a a short taxi ride.
We are staying at the Hotel Stephanie which markets itself as the oldest hotel in Vienna - 400 years old. This is probably pushing use of the word “oldest” a bit, what they actually mean is that in 1600 there used to be a building providing accommodation on the site of the current hotel.
The actual building dates from sometime in the 19th Century. Never-the-less, it is ranked as number 34 in Vienna on Trip Advisor and it is hard to find a poor review on the site.
Its current facade (2016) is hidden behind scaffolding.
And so, some seven hours after closing our own front door, we open the front door to our bedroom for the next five nights.