The aviation regulator has warned UK airports they will face enforcement action if they continue to fail disabled and less mobile passengers.
The Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) has asked airports to put improvements in place by next week and said it will use enforcement powers, which include court orders, if failures are continuing. The regulatory threat comes after a series of incidents in which wheelchair users were abandoned on planes or received no help despite having booked assistance.
Among them, Daryl Tavernor, 33, who suffers from spinal muscular atrophy, was left on a plane at Manchester Airport for more than two hours before phoning police for help clearing border control. He said the ordeal felt like being held hostage in his own country.
Manchester Airport eventually apologized to Tavernor but did not take responsibility for his treatment.
A disabled woman found herself stranded on a plane for over an hour and a half at Gatwick Airport last week. Victoria Brignell, from west London, was told she would have to wait 50 minutes on the plane from Malta, despite her wheelchair arriving ‘quickly’.
However, Wilson James, a company hired to help disabled passengers, did not come to help. The company and Gatwick apologized and said they were investigating the incident.
Last month, BBC security editor Frank Gardner expressed his frustration to be left on a plane “again” when Heathrow Airport failed to deliver his wheelchair.
The aviation regulator’s letter sent to all UK airports said: ‘The CAA is very concerned about the increase in reports we have received of significant service failures.’
The CAA has expressed concern and disappointment at the “declining performance of some airports” in assisting passengers with disabilities. He said: “Our own reporting framework tells us that many more disabled and less mobile passengers have had to wait longer for help than usual.”
The CAA acknowledged the problems were related to understaffing at airports, but warned airports that was no excuse. He said: “Despite the current disruption, these incidents could have been avoided through better management of the help desk function by airports and their contracted service providers.”
He asked airports to notify the CAA by June 21 what they have done to “prevent significant service failures from occurring in the future”. He added: “Providing service to disabled and less mobile passengers is something the industry needs to fix as soon as possible.”
The CAA said it was committed to returning performance levels to levels seen before the pandemic, and beyond.
Fazilet Hadi, policy manager at Disability Rights UK, welcomed the letter. She said: “In recent weeks people with disabilities have experienced truly appalling service outages and been left on planes for hours without any communication.
“We are delighted that the letter recognizes that even in normal times, support services were not always of good quality and calls on the industry to improve its practices in the future. We hope that the CAA will monitor the situation closely and use all the powers at its disposal to ensure that travelers with disabilities receive the support we need.
Tavernor asked the CAA to publish airport improvement plans for users with disabilities. He said: “We need to see the hard evidence of what they are offering. This has been terrible service for years. And it took bad publicity for them to finally react.