an unfortunate negative experience with the aira company

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Hello all, I thought I would post this to tell people about the unfortunate experience I have had with aira in the past few weeks. I should start out by saying I was certainly a big aira skeptic but have become converted after using it to do several tasks around my house such as work out how to operate a toaster independently and pick up broken glass safely, my other really useful thing I did with it was book a hotel stay through an inaccessible website which saved me a lot of time than phoning the place up.
so the situation is this I am in the UK, I have just moved house to a city for work purposes where I don't have family close by to assist me with things, I hardly know anyone and due to timings when I started my job it will be difficult for me to get any mobility rehabilitation training in the area nearby due to hours I am working, and the fact there is only one trainer for the entire area in which I live.
So my hope for aira was that I could particularly use it for navigation around my locality I know aira isn't a mobility trainer, but it certainly can be a guide and give far more information than a satnav.

I joined the aira pilot program in the UK back when it was running but I never became a paid explorer at the time, so I do now have access to the ability to make free 5 minute calls which is certainly incredibly useful, the agents themselves are really professional and good and my experience concerns the company itself not the agents.

I have been honest with aira right from the start, I emailed support to ask about becoming a paid explorer and explained my situation to them including that I was in the UK. However support turned me down and said the pilot program was closed, I couldn't become paid it was literally a two or three line response which felt very impersonal with no real explanation behind it apart from they would provide more information when it launched in the UK and my case was closed with no chance for me to ask if it could be considered at a higher level.
So I decided to try to bypass the script so to speak and actually get a decision made by someone higher up in the company who might be able to help.

eventually I got an email back from someone after a bit of trial and error, and again I was totally upfront explaining exactly what support had told me, but asking if they might be able to make an acception for me given my situation.
This person was able to pass my details on to someone else and eventually I got signed up after spending quite a bit of money on calling the US because I was unaware of the UK number which exists.
Anyway I decided to sign up for the intro plan because I hadn't moved at that point, and I didn't know how many minutes I would actually need. But after having moved and after discovering that getting orientation training around the area would be very difficult I decided I wanted to upgrade to the standard plan from the intro. bearing in mind I had paid my first months subscription had spent most of my minutes and was looking to spend more money with them on a monthly basis.
Unfortunately I decided to email support to request to upgrade my plan rather than phone which is maybe what I should have tried. the response from support was to take days to actually reply and in fact they only replied after I chased my original contact at aira and said they hadn't done so. But what support actually decided to do was to downgrade my plan, and they did this early before it actually ended when I had about 6 paid minutes still left on the plan.

I of course explained all this on airas facebook group, then there account manager got in touch saying they would refund my card which hasn't happened to date at time of writing, but there is a possible reason for this. More importantly he offered to schedule a call to discuss the matter further and I wrote to him asking if they were ahead or behind me in the US and I needed to fit a call in around work and not in the middle of the night as happened once with an account manager when I was trying to get signed up, but he hasn't replied to this message several days after I sent it.

I really don't understand airas business strategy, on the one hand in the UK they continue to offer aira access locations, but they prevent anyone new from signing up to really demonstrate the power and potential of aira. It seems to me they are stuck in a half way house in the UK not rolling out service fully yet they are still prepared to take money from some users but not others such as me.
They claim they want to help all blind people but where is there flexibility and willingness to be accommodating. Plus they can clearly be flexible as I was permitted to sign up at first, and someone like jonathan mosen was allowed to sign up in NZ as the first user of the system, so it seems to me if your well known aira can be helpful. There strategy makes no sense to me, why turn down someone wanting to spend more money with them. I do feel they should be transparent with UK users about there intentions and try to explain why the reasons for the delay in rolling out full service plus the crazy situation with ending the pilot yet still allowing some users to pay and offering access locations which I bet must be expensive, and if possible to try to give some kind of time frame when they might hope to roll out. At the moment I feel the UK is being strung along and I wonder if they will actually launch at all.
The aira agents are great, but I certainly don't feel valued by the company or like they really want me as a customer which is a shame as I would love to spend more money with them.
I do still have the ability to make free 5 minute calls for which I am grateful as I have still found it useful despite the time limit. Obviously 5 minutes is no good for trying to navigate, but it is good for micro tasks.



Submitted by Bingo Little on Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Hi alex,

I must admit the impression I got when I looked at the website was that they were in the exact halfway house you describe with UK users. I had thought to sign up as I am a season ticketholder at Saracens and I thought AIRA agents might be useful in helping me navigate to and from my seat, and to get refreshments at half time more efficiently than I currently can. But I wasn't convinced support over here would be great.

Submitted by Brad on Wednesday, October 30, 2019

I've heard that Aira is bad in the UK and that you don't even get the glasses when signing up but must use the phone with it's camra.

As for refunds, good luck. I've heard from a user on vorale who was in the UK that they didn't get a refund when they ask for it.

Submitted by AliceP104 on Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Hi Alex,
I feel your frustration here - I signed up to Aira a few months ago so I could create an account but I could not become a paid explorer. Like you, I can access the free five-minute calls but that’s it. It’s really frustrating because I want to be able to use Aira like people in the US etc but sadly that option’s not there for us right now. What’s even worse is that they made the free five-minute calls an option but as soon as they did that they stopped new UK users from even creating an account.
I am trying to be optimistic here and hope that this means they are working on a serious UK roll-out but I agree with what you say in that they shouldn’t market it the way they are doing because they are suggesting it’s free anywhere when it’s clearly not. Furthermore, it is, as other people have posted, like a halfway house here in the UK as you can do some things if you created an account in time but there are lots of things you can’t do!
I commend you for contacting various people in the organisation and yours is a situation where Aira would most definitely come in handy - I hope you get everything sorted so that you can use Aira as you would like and hopefully this will be a wake-up call for the Aira team to realise how invaluable it would be here in the UK and hopefully it will push them to tackle the UK market as I definitely think it will give people with visual impairments much more independence, especially in those situations where it isn’t practical to get mobility support due to working hours or the local authority is generally under-resourced.
I know there is also Be My Eyes but that won’t be as good for navigation as Aira and I like Aira because the agents are professionally trained - I commend the work of the Be My Eyes volunteers and so many people all over the world have praised Be My Eyes but if I had to choose between receiving assistance from a professionally trained agent and a volunteer, I would definitely choose the professionally trained agent.
Good luck on getting things sorted and let’s hope more positive news comes our way soon!