Mhairi Love, 41, from Stirling, won two silver medals swimming for Great Britain at the 2008 Athens Paralympics, and now dedicates her time to coaching and raising her two children.
As a special treat for her children, aged seven and five, Love and her partner booked a holiday to Turkey through travel agents TUI to make the most of the sun, approaching winter.
The flight, scheduled for October 11, was with Sun Express – an airline Love had never used before. She said she went to great pains to make sure the Turkish airline knew about her requirements – namely, an aisle chair so she can get to and from her seat to the bathroom.
“I am well used to travelling and the time and effort that goes into the preparation of travelling for someone that is disabled,” said Love, who also represented GB at the Beijing Paralympics.
After being assured by TUI their airline partner Sun Express would be able to provide an aisle chair, Love said she felt confident enough to finally tell her two children about the holiday.
“I told them on the Friday they were going on holiday on Tuesday,” Love said. “They were very excited.
“At check-in at Edinburgh Airport, I asked again if they had an aisle chair, and the Sun Express employee told me every airline they’d ever worked for had one on board – it won’t be an issue.
“I jokingly told her ‘well, I hope you’ll be at the gate’, and of course she wasn’t.”
At the gate, just 30 minutes before take off, Love said she was told there was no aisle chair, and her only options were to cancel the holiday, or fly without access to a bathroom.
The flight was four-and-a-half hours, “which can easily turn into six”, according to Love, when factoring in the help she needs boarding and alighting the aircraft.
Love said: “Despite my best efforts and being assured that all assistance was in place for myself and family to travel, my worst fears became a reality, which resulted in myself, my husband, and my children returning home.
“I saw the excitement in my two children as they waved to the pilots of the aircraft that they thought they were going to be on, before later hearing my seven-year-old sobbing as she couldn’t understand the reasons behind such discrimination.”
Love, who was left paralysed at age 12 when a surgical error during a routine operation left her wheelchair bound, said the discrimination disabled people faced was bad enough.
“It was a traumatic experience and not only for myself,” Love said. “Suffering from discrimination for 29 years is hard enough for me personally, but for that discrimination to be passed onto my children is just sickening.”
TUI or Sun Express were both contacted by The Scotsman, but did not provide a comment.
Love has been offered a full refund, but said: “It isn’t about the money, it’s about making change. I don’t want this to happen to anybody else.”