Civil Aviation Authority says treatment of disabled passengers 'absolutely unacceptable'

Consumer Editor Chris Choi explains what new guidelines could be introduced to help improve standards for disabled passengers both at airports and onboard flights

The Civil Aviation Authority has told ITV News that treatment of some disabled air passengers has been "absolutely unacceptable".

Exclusive details of its new plan to improve standards were provided by the organisation.

The initiative comes as accessibility campaigners prepare to take their fight for changes in the aviation sector to Downing Street, where, on Thursday, they will outline their demands for better service.

One of the airline customers seeking reforms is Jennie Berry, a wheelchair user paralysed from the waist down.

She made a video to show how she had to drag herself down the aisle of an aircraft to get to the toilet because it did not have the mobility equipment needed to assist her.

Ms Berry told ITV News: "I said to the attendant 'Do we think this is acceptable that disabled people have to get to the toilet like this because there is no aisle chair onboard', and she said 'Disabled people should be wearing nappies'."

Aisle chairs are specialist mobility aids that allow disabled passengers to move down the aircraft. But not all planes have them and there is currently no law to say they must.

Wheelchair user Victoria Brignell also has footage of her distressing experience. She was stranded onboard an aircraft waiting for assistance to exit for an hour and 20 minutes.

"The ability to travel like everyone else is a basic right, a human right. At the moment airlines and airports are not doing what they can to make sure we have a decent service," she said.

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After a string of similar incidents involving disabled passengers, a new campaign has been started, named 'Rights on Flights'.

It is calling for passengers with mobility restrictions and disability "to be treated with the respect and dignity we deserve".

On Thursday, organisers will hand a letter to No 10 Downing Street, highlighting the issues and demanding change.

The campaign for improvements got a high profile boost when Sophie Morgan's wheelchair was damaged during an airline trip.

As a TV presenter, she took the fight for changes onto the airwaves, telling ITV News: "I've been left onboard when we land, one time for well over an hour.

Cases like Jennie Berry and Victoria Brignell enduring distressful experiences while onboard planes have been reported in recent years. Credit: ITV News

"I've had my wheelchair damaged, I've had equipment lost, I've been treated quite badly by airline staff."

She said a fundamental rethink is needed, adding: "We want systemic change, it needs to be redesigned... because the system as it stands isn't working.

"And the airlines might be saying they are doing their best, but it's just not good enough."

Karen Dee, a senior spokesperson from the Airports Operators Association, told ITV News: "We had been shut down for two years during the pandemic and actually there were some real challenges... we are feeling pretty confident that we will be back at a much better kind of service than we were able to deliver last year."

Airports suggest that passengers who require assistance should tell their airline at least 48 hours in advance so that any provision can be made.

The Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) has spoken exclusively to ITV News about its plans to more closely monitor the aviation sector's performance on accessibility.

The CAA's Paul Smith said: "There were some absolutely unacceptable experiences for disabled and less mobile passengers."

There are now plans for an overhaul of how the industry's assistance services are monitored.

He added: "In the next couple of weeks we are going to launch a consultation on an airline accessibility framework."

The proposed new rules will aim to set new standards for the priority boarding of disabled and reduced mobility passengers, assistance with toilets if needed and the accessibility of websites.

The Department for Transport (DfT) declined an interview request from ITV News, but is set to announce its policy on increasing enforcement of aviation standards.

Many of the passengers worst affected want far more fundamental changes.

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