Airport inaccessibility

Airport inaccessibility – a report by Disability Right UK

There has been a growing number of incidents involving Disabled passengers being left waiting for assistance in disembarking airplanes recently. A Disabled woman was left stranded on a plane for more than an hour and a half after staff did not come to help her. Victoria Brignell was returning home after a holiday in Malta and although she was told her wheelchair was arriving to help her disembark, she was left waiting as the contracted firm hired by Gatwick assist did not arrive to help her.

Victoria explained that “Shortly after landing the BA airline staff came up to me and said they’re sorry but the people who are meant to help get me off the plane would not be there for 50 minutes. Time passed and I was then told it would be another half an hour on top of that. In the end I was waiting an hour and 35 minutes.”

Incidents like this are not new. BBC correspondent Frank Gardner has had many similar incidents, finding himself left stuck onboard an empty plane 4 times in 4 years waiting for assistance. With a growing number of Disabled passengers being let down, many charities have been quick to urge airlines not to forget their responsibilities, citing that even though a staffing crisis is ongoing within the industry and increased demand for flights, Disabled customers need to treated as any other customer and not be subjected to stressful and degrading experiences when flying.

It is estimated that up to 3 million Disabled passengers travel by air every year in the United Kingdom alone. Heathrow Airport Terminal 5 alone provides daily assistance to 2000 Disabled customers and although everybody can have a trying time when traveling by plane, it is seemingly magnified and made worse because by having a disability.

According to the Civil Aviation Authority, the UK’s regulator, the responsibility lies with the airport to aid passengers when they are on the ground. That includes retrieving wheelchairs from the hold and returning them to passengers who have landed.

Improvements to passenger access support at airports was due to begin in 2018 when the government announced the launch of Aviation 2050, its consultation and strategy for the next three decades of air travel, but that initiative has stalled due to Covid-19, leaving the issues of customer service failure continuing for passengers with a Disability.

Dan White, DR UK Policy and Campaigns Officer said: “In 2022 people shouldn’t be stuck on a plane alone and waiting for assistance. Disabled passengers pay their fares like every other passenger and deserve the same respect and assistance.

These unacceptable situations fall far below airports values and aims and it’s about time the industry made air travel more customer-centric and inclusive. Let’s not waste the opportunity to act now before more horror stories of individuals being seemingly abandoned on flights continue.”

For more information on this story listen to the BBC Access All podcast.

Link to DR UK Blog from 15th November 2021: Engracia Figueroa. How a simple A to B flight resulted in a Disabled activist’s death | Disability Rights UK