Four air­ports told to stop fail­ing dis­abled trav­ellers

The Guardian - - NATIONAL - Sarah Marsh

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

Af­ter as­sess­ing all the ma­jor air­ports across the coun­try, the Civil Avi­a­tion Au­thor­ity told Gatwick, Stansted and Birmingham air­ports that they needed to im­prove ac­ces­si­bil­ity for dis­abled pas­sen­gers.

Manch­ester was the only air­port to be given 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. 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 for dis­abled peo­ple.

Neil Hes­lop, the chief ex­ec­u­tive of the Leonard Cheshire char­ity, said it was not ac­cept­able that some ma­jor gate­ways to the UK treated dis­abled pas­sen­gers poorly.

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”.

The air­port had al­ready taken a “num­ber of pos­i­tive steps” in the past 12 months, such as in­tro­duc­ing a lan­yard for peo­ple with hid­den dis­abil­i­ties to wear and set­ting up a dis­abil­ity en­gage­ment fo­rum.

The BBC jour­nal­ist Frank Gard­ner was left stranded on a plane last year

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