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Disabled travellers miss their flights

Disabled travellers miss their flights

Heathrow airport has been criticised for its commitment to passengers with accessible needs after a study shows a number of disabled passengers have missed their flights due to the lack of support from staff.

The aviation watchdog highlights the “particularly poor performance” at Terminal 5, where “many passengers” did not make their connections in time.

Over at Terminal 3 those requesting accessible help were forced to wait for more than an hour to be transferred from one piece of equipment to another.

Bristol, Leeds Bradford and Luton airports also came under fire for their lack of service for disabled passengers by the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) in its interim airport accessibility report.

On the opposite side of the runway Aberdeen, Belfast International, East Midlands, Glasgow and London City airport were awarded a “very good” rating for their accessibility performance.

Paul Smith, the director of consumers at the CAA, said: “The aviation industry has faced unprecedented challenges, but too many passengers at UK airports have been waiting for unacceptable amounts of time for assistance on arriving flights on too many occasions.

“We strongly believe that everyone should have access to air travel, and we welcome the substantial improvements that airports have made for disabled and less mobile passengers.

“We will continue to consider whether we need to take further action where airports are not delivering an acceptable level of performance, and not showing sufficient and sustained improvements.

“We want to see immediate further improvements, as well as airports being well prepared to provide a high-quality service during next year.”

The CAA contacted underperforming airports earlier in the year demanding they improve access for disabled people and those with limited mobility.

But despite some improvements there is a long way to go until every airport provides a ‘first class’ service, especially at Bristol, Leeds Bradford and London Heathrow.

A follow up full-annual report, scheduled to be published in summer 2023, will include all airports handling more than 150,000 passengers a year.

James Taylor, the director of strategy for Scope, told The Guardian: “Disabled people in this country have been failed at our airports for years. We constantly hear of disabled people left on planes, equipment damaged and lost, and assistance not turning up.

“For a long time, we’ve been extremely concerned that airports, and airlines are not complying with the regulations. This has been going on too long. The impact is often degrading, stressful and anxiety-inducing and stops some disabled people from travelling altogether. It’s time that the regulations had teeth and are backed up by fines and penalties.”

A Heathrow spokesperson said: “We are extremely disappointed by recent service levels which fall well short of our expectations. The challenges faced by the entire aviation ecosystem this year have set us back, but we are working to recover performance to ensure Heathrow is a welcoming and accessible airport for all passengers.

“We are committed to achieving this in partnership with our service provider, airlines and their ground handlers, working closely with the CAA and user groups.”

A London Luton airport spokesperson said: “We are committed to providing a simple and friendly experience for all passengers, and we’re sorry that we have fallen short on this occasion. Despite all of the post-pandemic challenges this year, LLA has consistently been one of the top-performing airports in the CAA’s customer satisfaction survey, with our special assistance service being rated four out of five by our passengers.”

A spokesperson for Bristol airport said: “We are disappointed with the results of the recent CAA disability survey. We will continue to work with OCS, the special assistance provider, to provide consistent and high-quality assistance to all customers and put remedial plans in place to address the issues to ensure we continue providing high levels of service and assistance our customers expect.

“Record numbers of customers with disabilities are travelling through Bristol airport year on year, and we take it very seriously to provide assistance and help that meets the individual customer needs.”

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