UK airports ordered to end ‘significant service failures’ in handling disabled passengers
Britain’s civil aviation regulator has told airport operators it is “very concerned” about recent reports of “significant service failures” in the treatment of passengers with disabilities. The Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) has told airports that “unacceptable” deficiencies must be corrected by June 21 or enforcement action could be taken.
The difficulties faced by many disabled people at the hands of airlines and airport operators were highlighted by the recent case of Victoria Brignell, a quadriplegic passenger, who was abandoned on a British Airways plane at the airport from Gatwick for an hour and a half.
A spokesperson for Gatwick Airport said it would investigate the circumstances of what happened to Ms Brignell as an “urgent matter”, but BBC correspondent Frank Gardner said his story was “depressing and familiar”.
Gardner needs extra assistance when traveling after he was shot dead by an al-Qaeda gunman in Saudi Arabia in 2004. Last month, he was left alone and abandoned on a plane at the airport from Heathrow as there were no staff available to get his specialist wheelchair from the hold and deliver to the aircraft door.
At the time, Gardner said Heathrow Airport was treating passengers with disabilities as ‘the lowest priority’ and has since complained that pre-pandemic progress to improve support services was ‘retreating’ .
It’s a theme echoed by CAA Consumer and Markets Director Paul Smith, who told airport operators in a letter dated June 9 that it was “disappointing that over the past few months, there has been a drop in performance at some airports”.
“Our own reporting framework tells us that many more disabled and less mobile passengers have had to wait longer for assistance than usual,” the letter continues.
Acknowledging that the aviation industry was suffering from post-pandemic recruitment issues, Smith said: “The CAA is very concerned about the increase in reports we have received of significant service failures, some of which have been highlighted by the media”.
“These significant service failures are simply unacceptable.”
“We believe that, despite the current disruptions, these incidents could have been avoided through better management of the help desk functions by airports and their contracted service providers.”
Smith asked airport operators to respond on how they would improve their service to passengers with disabilities by June 21. Airports have been warned that any further failures could result in enforcement action being taken by the CAA.
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