Brian Hickman and Lily at Heathrow T5

BA BETTER WORLD • October 2023

How I learned to fly again

After life-changing spinal injuries 15 years ago, Brian Hickman flew again this summer thanks to a little help from British Airways. Club correspondent Emma Blackmore speaks to the man behind the triumphant return…  

Former police officer Brian Hickman has always had an appetite for adventure. But in October 2009, his life changed forever. Following an incident in the line of duty, the then 38-year-old was rushed to hospital with a large disc prolapse and further traumatic injuries, resulting in some 19 surgeries. Due to his spinal injuries, Brian has only 20 per cent feeling down the left side of his body and has to use a wheelchair.

Having difficulties keeping his job in the police, six years on he was finding it harder and harder to perform even the smallest tasks, such as picking up the post. In 2016, Brian’s life was changed by his assistance dog, Lily, who has been helping him with day-to-day errands and practical tasks, such as alerting him to nearby trip hazards, picking up items from the floor or even helping him to undress. The adorable cockapoo is a fully qualified and certified assistance dog who Brian trained with the help of the charity Dog A.I.D. The charity also carries out a 90-minute assessment of Lily each year to ensure she’s still fully certified.

This year would have marked 15 years since Brian last took a flight, and the former travel enthusiast was keen to become one once more. He wanted, most of all, to reunite with his relatives who live in Zakynthos, Greece. And that’s where we came in. After Brian reached out to British Airways for help, we arranged a trial flight from Heathrow to Newcastle to feel out not only Brian’s emotions and access requirements, but Lily’s, too. After all, the little cockapoo had never been on a plane before. 

“Lily and I are never separated. Wherever she goes, I go,” Brian smiles. He describes the process of booking a flight with an assistance dog as seamless, thanks to the support offered by us through our Accessibility Team at our contact centre based in Newcastle.

For the special occasion, we picked Brian up from his home in Croydon and travelled with him to London Heathrow. He then breezed through check-in and security with the help of the airport’s dedicated team, who provided a wheelchair on arrival to minimise walking. After a quick tea stop, he boarded his flight at the front of the cabin. 


“I wasn’t sure how Lily would react on a plane,” Brian tells The Club. “I wanted to test her anxiety levels and I was particularly worried about how air pressure would affect her during take-off and landing, but it was like she didn’t even notice! The cabin crew were really welcoming and attentive to me and Lily during the one-hour flight. When I was all settled in my seat, she fell asleep for most of the journey.” Brian brought with him a vet bed with absorbent pads so Lily could relieve herself if needed, which we recommend for both shorter and long-haul flights.

“It was a massive confidence booster for me,” Brian adds. “No one questioned Lily at all, and British Airways has been superb throughout the process.”

After landing, we arranged for Brian to be taken to our Newcastle office, the HQ for our Accessibility Team. Here, he learned about the various types of support we offer to make travel barrier and stress-free. Brian is one of more than 1,000 customers who travel with service dogs with us every year, and this team focuses on making their journey as pleasant and enjoyable as possible.

Service dogs travel free of charge in the cabin on all of our flights, but they must carry with them the necessary documentation, vaccinations, treatments and tests for each country visiting (a legal requirement), and they must meet the requirements of the Pet Travel Scheme when returning to the UK.

So, is Brian ready to fly again – this time, to see the turquoise waters and endless sandy beaches of Zakynthos? “Absolutely,” he says, aiming to fly early next year. “It’s hard not to want to fly again when Lily brings out such a great big smile from everyone.”

This article has been tagged BA BETTER WORLD, Travel Tips