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Mother says her son with autism was ‘mocked’ by rail staff after asking about an earlier service

Aeolienne

Well-Known Member
(Not written by me)

Mother says her son with autism was ‘mocked’ by rail staff after asking about an earlier service

Sarah Hilary said her son was becoming stressed at Paddington station in London and had hoped they might be allowed on an earlier service

Josh Barrie
Wednesday October 24th 2018

A mother claimed she and her son, who has autism, were “mocked” by Great Western Railway staff at Paddington train station after she asked whether they might be allowed on an earlier service.

Sarah Hilary, a crime novelist, said she had booked to travel on the 6.20pm train from London home to Bath but her son, 17, a vulnerable passenger, was struggling.

“They were accusatory and it felt like they were mocking me and my son”

Ms Hilary said he can become overwhelmed on a sensory level in places such as hectic train stations. Given he carries a disabled person’s railcard, she hoped GWR would allow them both to start their journey early and avoid any upset.

She said to i: “They [staff] acted like gatekeepers, they were intimidating and belligerent, and it seemed like they were trying to save GWR profits rather than support customers, which is their job.

Nervous and upset

“They were accusatory and it felt like they were mocking me and my son. It was bullying. They were acting like they thought we were ‘pulling a fast one’ and I was only asking to have some flexibility to get a freebie.

“It distressed my son and he was visibly agitated and nervous. He doesn’t react well to these situations and hates confrontation. I showed them his railcard, but they just scoffed.

“When I explained my son was autistic, one of the men said, ‘yeah, so’s mine’. If he is, I’m worried for his son, given the way he is.

“I’ve never been treated so badly. It was horrible to experience, especially in front of other passengers.”

Ms Hilary, who shared her and her son’s experience on Twitter, said she felt “humiliated” by the ordeal.

Complaint

After complaining at the ticket office, she was eventually allowed to change trains and was put on an earlier service.

“I explained the situation and they were quite dismissive”, said Ms Hilary. “I didn’t receive any apology after I said I would like to complain – they just stamped our tickets and allowed us on an earlier train.”

Ms Hilary said the carriages were incredibly busy and she thought her son “might collapse”. She took him to 1st class, and added that the train manager on board was “very gentle, kind, and understanding”.

After taking her complaint to GWR head office, the novelist said senior staff at the rail company were helpful, offered her a refund on her journey, and free tickets on a future fare.

Investigation

But she also said the experience really affected her son: “He told me afterwards, ‘mum, if that happens again, just sit me in a corner and I’ll ride it out. Please don’t ask the help desk again’.”

GWR said what happened was “totally unacceptable” and said it has launched an investigation.

A GWR spokesperson told i: “We are sorry to learn of Sarah’s experience while at London Paddington with her son. We work closely with a leading autism charity to give all staff awareness training as part of our customer service training programme.

“An investigation has been launched into the issues raised. We are grateful to Sarah for bringing this to our attention and are in contact with her as part of the investigation.”

Source: iNews
 
This is a story with a relatively happy ending because this mother stood up for her son. She confronted the bullies, pursued a legitimate complaint, and got the attention of employees higher up the food chain than low level ticketing employees. Go, Mom!
 
I had an incident at Coventry railway station last week. I had booked a mobile ticket for the fast train to London (operated by Virgin Trains) but at the barrier I was unable to log into the app - it wasn't accepting what I thought was my password - so I wasn't allowed through and had to buy a ticket for the next departing slow train. Would it have made any difference if I'd played the autism card?
 
I'm not sure what to make of this. It seems like it should have been a simple matter of exchanging the tickets on hand for an earlier boarding. A straightforward transaction without any drama being involved. But I don't know how the London railway system operates. Also without being there, there's no way to know how both parties were behaving towards each other. The railway staff might have a different version saying the mother was being rude and demanding etc. Who knows.
 
It wasn't "the London railway system": the journey in question was an intercity service from London to Bath. For a lowdown on the British railway system, check out The Man in Seat Sixty-one.
I still don't know how that works as far as exchanging tickets goes as in lack of experience. I don't even know how it works here and I live a couple of blocks from the train station.
 
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