UK Civil Aviation Authority airport accessibility report released

Published Date
Bobby Ancil

The UK Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) have published a report which assessed the top 30 UK airports on the quality of assistance they provide to disabled passengers.

The report shows that the number of passengers requesting assistance continues to grow, with assistance requested in over three million journeys in 2016 – a 66% rise since 2010.

The majority of airports rated by the CAA report are providing ‘very good’ or ‘good’ support.  However, four airports including London Heathrow and Manchester airports have been told they must improve after falling under the ‘poor’ rating.

The CAA framework for rating the quality of assistance provided to disabled travellers is the first of its kind in Europe.  It was introduced to ensure there is a consistent and high quality service for disabled passengers across UK airports.  The CAA assesses airports against a number of measures to establish how well they are performing for disabled passengers.  Where airports regularly under-perform, the CAA can take enforcement action to ensure services are improved.

Six airports were rated as ‘very good’ including Birmingham, Glasgow and Humberside airports.  20 were rated as ‘good’  including Belfast International, London Stansted and Edinburgh airports.

Trailblazers Ambassador Emma Vogelmann visited Rome last week for a conference.  Unfortunately, her return journey did not go smoothly.  She said:

When I arrived at Gatwick airport my wheelchair was supposed to meet me at the aircraft door. It wasn’t there and I was told to go to the baggage claim to get it and I ended up waiting over an hour and a half before they located and brought me my wheelchair.

I was sitting very uncomfortably in a buggy being stared at the whole time. No one helping me, such as being given clear information as to where my chair was as well as when it would arrive.

It’s scary enough as a wheelchair user to hand over your wheelchair but when it’s gone missing for such a long period of time when you need it is very distressing.

The Up in the Air report revealed that:

  • 6 out of 10 Trailblazers have had their wheelchair damaged when travelling with an airline
  • 60% of Trailblazers feel unsafe when transferring from their wheelchair to an aircraft seat
  • Almost half of Trailblazers said staff who assist them during seat transfers do not provide a good service

We have been working to change the situation for disabled people who want to travel by air.  Progress has been made in some areas, in part due to our report.  This includes the rules around what weight wheelchairs can be lifted onto an aircraft being relaxed by many airlines.

However, there is a long way to go before air travel is fully accessible for disabled people.  We are calling for:

  1. All UK airports or airlines to have at least one Eagle Lifter to facilitate the transfer of wheelchair users into the aircraft seat safely and in a way which affords them dignity.
  2. All baggage handlers to undergo basic training on how to handle wheelchairs, including which parts may damage it.  This training is best provided by disabled people themselves, and refresher courses should be required at regular intervals.
  3. Aircraft designers to consider the needs of disabled passengers from the outset of design – including toilets and being able to get an Eagle Lifter on board as well as accessible seat design, and encourage these designers to test allowing wheelchair users to travel in their wheelchairs on board the aircraft.
  4. All airlines to carry wheelchairs which fit into aircraft holds regardless of their weight.
  5. All UK airports to have one Changing Places toilet per terminal.

Trailblazers Campaigns Officer Michaela Hollywood said:

Our Up in the Air investigation painted a picture of how many young disabled people find it difficult to use air travel.  Young professionals need to travel for business, while many young people find that travelling to new countries enriches their lives and is a part of their identity.

Air travel can go smoothly.  However, it is clear that monitoring systems are needed to identify the issues in specific airports and encourage them to make their assistance better for disabled passengers.

Being able to get from A to B without undue stress and anxiety is important for everyone, and disabled people deserve to experience all the thrills of travelling to new parts of the world by plane.

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