Disabled passengers 'treated unacceptably' at four UK airports

Aviation watchdog points finger at Gatwick, Stansted, Birmingham and Manchester

Disabled passengers are being treated unacceptably at four major UK airports, the aviation watchdog has said.

The Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) assessed all airports in Britain, with London Gatwick, London Stansted and Birmingham airports told they needed to improve accessibility for disabled passengers.

Manchester was the only airport to receive a “poor” rating. Some passengers on incoming flights were left waiting on planes for more than an hour before assistance arrived.

“This is not an acceptable situation,” the CAA said.

Officials at Gatwick, Stansted and Birmingham failed to provide the regulator with sufficient information about their standard of service.

London Heathrow, the UK’s busiest airport, was one of 26 classified as “good” or “very good” this year. It was among four rated “poor” last year.

Disability charities welcomed the improvements made in recent months but expressed concern that several of the largest airports were continuing to fail on accessibility.

Neil Heslop, the chief executive of Leonard Cheshire, said it was not acceptable that some major gateways to the UK offer disabled passengers poor treatment.

Last year the BBC’s security correspondent, Frank Gardner, was left on an easyJet flight after all other passengers had disembarked and special assistance staff failed to turn up at Gatwick airport.

Gardner, whose legs were paralysed when he was shot six times by al-Qaida sympathisers in Saudi Arabia in 2004, said at the time: “It happens so bloody often, that it’s just really tedious. Time and time again if the plane lands at a British airport and it’s not on an air bridge, disabled passengers like me have to wait for the ... high lift to come and get you off.”

Phil Talbot, the head of communications at the disability charity Scope, urged the CAA to “continue to work with airports to bring those lagging behind up to scratch”.

The CAA consumers and markets director, Paul Smith, said: “There are still too many occasions where things go wrong. Where we see examples of bad practice, we will not hesitate to hold airports to account and take the necessary enforcement action.”

The aviation minister Lady Sugg called for passengers with reduced mobility or hidden disabilities to “get the service they deserve every time they fly”.

Manchester airport said it acknowledged the CAA’s findings and was “committed to making further improvements to ensure we meet the required standards”.

A spokesman added that the airport had already taken a “number of positive steps” in the last 12 months, such as introducing a lanyard for people with hidden disabilities and setting up a disability engagement forum.


Sarah Marsh

The GuardianTramp

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