Britain’s civil aviation regulator has told airport operators that it is “very concerned” about recent reports of “significant service failings” in the treatment of disabled passengers. The Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) has told airports that the “unacceptable” failings 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 airline passenger, who was left abandoned on a British Airways aircraft at Gatwick Airport for an hour and a half.
A spokesperson for Gatwick airport said it would be investigating the circumstances of what happened to Ms Brignell as a “matter of urgency” but BBC correspondent Frank Gardner says her story is “depressingly familiar”.
Gardner requires additional assistance when travelling after he was shot by an al-Qaeda gunman in Saudi Arabia in 2004. Last month, he found himself alone and abandoned on a plane at Heathrow Airport because there was no staff available to get his specialised wheelchair from the hold and bring it to the door of the plane.
At the time, Gardner said Heathrow Airport treated disabled passengers as “the lowest priority” and has since complained that strides made before the pandemic to improve assistance services were “slipping back”.
That is a theme echoed by the CAA’s director of consumers and markets Paul Smith who told airport operators in a letter dated June 9 that it was “disappointing that in recent months there has been a dip 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 continued,
Acknowledging that the aviation industry was suffering from post-pandemic recruitment challenges, Smith said: “The CAA is very concerned about the increase in reports that we have received of significant service failings, some of which have been highlighted through the media”.
“These significant service failings are simply unacceptable.”
“It is our view that, despite the current disruptions, these incidents could have been avoided by better management of the assistance service functions by airports and their contracted service providers.”
Smith has told airport operators to reply with how they will improve their service to disabled passengers by June 21. Airports have been warned that any further failures could result in the CAA taking enforcement action.
Mateusz Maszczynski honed his skills as an international flight attendant at the most prominent airline in the Middle East and has been flying throughout the COVID-19 pandemic for a well-known European airline. Matt is passionate about the aviation industry and has become an expert in passenger experience and human-centric stories. Always keeping an ear close to the ground, Matt's industry insights, analysis and news coverage is frequently relied upon by some of the biggest names in journalism.