Passengers with reduced mobility are sometimes being left humiliated, deprived of their dignity and in some cases even physically hurt when travelling through airports, putting them off flying altogether, it has been claimed.
All UK airports must, by law, provide free support to any disabled passenger who needs it. The law also dictates that people with restricted mobility should have the same opportunities for air travel as anyone else.
But a survey conducted by the Research Institute for Disabled Consumers (RiDC) for consumer champion Which? found that nearly half (46%) of passengers with reduced mobility felt unable to travel by air because of their disability in the past two years.
Even experienced travellers have been forced to rethink their travel aspirations because of traumatic and degrading airport experiences.
In one particularly shocking case, Martyn Sibley, a keen traveller who uses a wheelchair, had his foot caught and bent back as he was being lifted into his plane seat, resulting in pulled tendons in his ankle.
The survey found that of respondents who had used special assistance at an airport, a quarter (25%) said that they were dissatisfied – meaning misery for thousands of passengers each year.
Which? Travel has received numerous other complaints about appalling experiences. In one instance, a 76-year-old with severe arthritis was left abandoned and despite booking ‘special assistance’ had to drag herself through Heathrow Airport with no help at all.
While this incident occurred before the airport received a ‘good’ rating by the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), the special assistance service at Heathrow was deemed the worst overall in the RiDC survey, with over a quarter of respondents (28%) saying they were dissatisfied.
Despite the CAA’s ranking, the regulator said that due to a dip in performance levels there was a chance London Heathrow will not meet the standard for a good rating next year.
The CAA’s report found that there are now no ‘poor’ airports for disabled access in the UK and just one – Manchester – that ‘needs improvement’. The RiDC survey respondents found Manchester to be the second-worst, with one in five (22%) feeling dissatisfied.
One passenger discovered that while there was a wheelchair waiting for him upon arrival at Manchester, no staff were available to push it.
The consumer champion said that more needs to be done to ensure better communication between airline, airport and special assistance staff as well as extra training to make sure all passengers are cared for in a dignified manner.
Rory Boland, Which? Travel Editor, said that tales of inadequate airport accessibility services were “all too common”, so it was unsurprising that thousands of disabled travellers feel unable to fly.
“Airports have a legal responsibility to provide these services and more needs to be done to ensure no passenger is made to feel this way just because they wanted to take a holiday.”