Wheelchair Worries - Tuesday 27th June 2023

Going Home

Our flight wasn't until 20:30 so we did some mooching around and then headed back to where we'd parked the car at Polio supermarket. It was going to take over an hour to drive to Ecovia so I thought I'd have one last Sorrento pee, ya know just for the memories. Dad checked out the public toilets and said the gents was going to be difficult and had no toilet seat, but the ladies looked do-able and it had a toilet seat. I jumped at the chance... an Italian women's toilet! I know how to make the most of my holiday...

The toilet was at the end of a two metre long very narrow stall. I transferred to the loo and Dad took the chair and waited outside. He shut the door. Click.
"I think that's just locked itself" Dad announced.
"Really?"
He tried the door and it wouldn't open.
"Nope it's locked. Is there a panic chord in there?" Dad asked
"Nope and I can't reach the door."
Great, they don't have toilet seats, most toilets aren't disabled, some are down stairs and they lock you in. I'm getting the feeling I'm not welcome here...
The stall was so narrow I could stand up and keep my self upright by pushing against the walls either side. Like Spiderman I crab walked down the stall and unlocked the door.

All that was left was to return the car to Ecovia, we were expecting them to make this as difficult as our arrival. We arrived three and a half hours before our flight took off so we wouldn't miss our flight if they were as difficult as they were on our arrival.

Here's the rest of Dad's review

On our return, the same person was much more welcoming and helpful, saying that she'd hold the shuttle for us. Unfortunately, the driver had other ideas and left. On his return, after about 30 minutes, he wanted to put my son and his chair in the luggage area, unsecured and among other unsecured luggage. We argued that this was unsafe and I helped him into a normal seat. I'm astonished that this company remains in business, and can only assume that they survive thanks to Easyjet, who should be more selective about whom they recommend.

You read that correctly, they didn't have any facilities for disabled passengers, so they were going to stick me in the boot like luggage.

I'll explain exactly how this went. I was invited onto the bus, I am in a wheelchair and a couple of inches off the floor is a rusty step into the bus. I asked if their was another way to get on and pointed at the wheelchair. He didn't speak a word of English, he said something in Italian gave a signal that I thought meant roll on and went inside the shabby looking port a cabin. He came out with another member of staff who was fluent in English.

"You want to get on the bus?" He asked
"Yes please"
They then got either side and were preparing to lift me.
"Whoa whoa whoa, are you going to put me in with the luggage? You can't put me in there".
The non-English speaking driver just shrugged his shoulders. He didn't know what I said, but it was pretty clear I was refusing to go in the boot. This is a perfect metaphor for my experience of Italy. The disabled are as insignificant as luggage and they care so little they just shrug.

I proceeded to wheel round to the side of the van with Dad trying to point out "it's not safe." Dad helped me step up onto the step which moved under my weight as if it was going to collapse. I sat in the front left seat directly behind the driver. It was a boiling hot day and we were crawling along in traffic. I felt the occasional cold air from the drivers air con.

I checked their website to see what it says about disabled customers.

I clicked on the top result from Google, which I didn't realise at the time was a sponsored link and not Ecovia.

"Ecovia have got a lovely website" I thought. It's like a travel website. You enter your pickup destination, your arrival date and departure date, then you are taken to a page where it checks all of it's suppliers and then comes back with pictures of all the cars they offer, their prices and customer reviews.

This website was lovely and not at all in keeping with how Ecovia present themselves. You drive through the streets of Naples until you get to a portacabin in a public car park behind an Esso garage. This website says they have a rating of 4.48/5 from 234,117 customers. It also says '
Compare car rentals and save up to 50%'.
The penny drops.

This is a car rental comparison site and Ecovia barely feature in the results. When they do you can see that they have a poor rating.

This site is economybookings.com and shame on them for not even mentioning how disabled customers are catered for. There should at least be a notice before you purchase "economybookings.com is a price comparison website, please check the providers website for their disability access." Not all disabled customers can get out of their chair. A disabled customer who can not get out of their chair might fly for hours, reach their destination and then find they can't get to the car to collect it. The car rental sites MUST notify you before you rent the car how far it is from the airport. How you will get there (a shuttle bus at their expense or public transport) and if it is via shuttle bus, whether it has disabled facilities or not.

So, I'll give Ecovia benefit of the doubt and make sure I'm checking there website.

They have a very nice website, there's a booking form and then it brings up a list of cars matching your search criteria and informs you of a few features like number of doors and seats and whether it's auto or manual. I followed the buying process all the way through to providing payment details and there is no mention of disability access. You might be thinking "well you're not going to rent a car you can't get in." I agree, it was the company that left me at the airport for an hour and a half on arrival and it's the company who wanted to put me in the boot with the luggage on departure, not the car. So I went to their FAQ section to see if disabled access is mentioned for the shuttle to pick up the car. It wasn't.

So I had a quick look at some other car rental websites and did a search in their FAQs:

Europcar - no

Hertz - yes

Hertz have a search box that I entered 'disabled' into. There was one answer and it just directed you to the contact us page and it was about adapting the car. They do at least acknowledge disabled customers exist which puts them ahead of Ecovia and there might be nothing about transport to pick up the car because they are on site.

Avis - yes

Avis have a search box that I entered 'disabled' into. There was one answer and it was about adapting the car.

Enterprise - yes

They actually have a link on the main page - Customer Service > Disabled Customers. They have a section of the website dedicated to it. There are three sections - Adjustments, Surrogate Drivers and Permanently Adapted Vehicles and a link to contact them if they haven't answered your question.

Sixt - no

Now I only had a very quick search in the FAQs. In the case of some sites (Hertz for example) there are dozens of links that could hide information on what I'm looking for.

when I was looking at the Ecovia website, I noticed a link to 'Become an Affiliate'. I don't know if Ecovia do any due diligence, because I would say that either Ecovia don't know who's representing them at Naples airport or they do and aren't concerned that it's affiliates are representing them this way.

In Conclusion

Sorrento was an adventure and a place I would like to return to, but I would do it completely differently.

First of all I would stay in an accessible hotel. I didn't enjoy staying where I did, I don't like that the accommodation lied that there were 'disabled facilities'. I felt like an afterthought and expected to just manage. The person who rented us the accommodation could have ruined my holiday because of her desire to make a quick buck. Fortunately I'm a swell guy who managed to soldier on...<-sarcasm

However, I wouldn't do Sorrento again unless I could rent an electric wheelchair. I wouldn't go to Italy unless I was with people who could help me get to the loo. 

I would put up with the cobbled streets and the lack of drop curbs because I don't see it ever changing. I don't see how the cobbled streets could change and I don't think it should. I think the look of Sorrento is to perfect to modify.

I wouldn't go to Pompeii. Again there's an awful lot they can't make accessible but there's an awful lot they can and have, I did this completely wrong. I would say if you're disabled you should go on a disable friendly tour, check out https://disabledaccessibletravel.com/accessible-pompeii/

If you are disabled I would highly recommend viewing the website Sage Travelling

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