Heathrow Airport 'failed to meet minimum standards' for treatment of disabled passengers, says CAA

File photo dated 19/01/16 of a plane at sunset over Heathrow Airport in London. Online travel firm loveholidays has revealed that artificial intelligence is helping the group expand further across Europe as it uses the technology to speed up its route into new countries.
A plane at sunset over Heathrow Airport in London Credit: PA

Heathrow Airport failed to meet minimum standards for its treatment of disabled passengers over 12 months, the aviation regulator has said. The Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) rated accessibility at the UK’s busiest airport as “poor” for the first quarter of the year to the end of March, and as “needs improvement” for the rest of that period. The regulator noted that Heathrow has recorded a 50% increase in the proportion of passengers using its assistance service compared with 2019 levels. It also said that the airport’s service to disabled travellers improved over the year, but not enough to achieve a “good” rating. Heathrow was classified as “good” in the first three months after the period covered by the report. The airport is serving more people requiring extra support than ever before, despite overall passenger numbers remaining slightly below pre-pandemic levels. The CAA’s analysis of 26 UK airports found that 18 consistently achieved a “good” or “very good” rating in 2022/23, such as Belfast International, Cardiff, East Midlands and Edinburgh. Seven other airports improved from “poor” to “good” or “very good” over the 12 months. Assistance includes measures such as wheelchair provision, access to accessible toilets and the movement of disabled people on and off aircraft.

British Airways plane taking off from Heathrow Airport Credit: PA

CAA joint interim chief executive Paul Smith said: “Today’s report shows the dedicated efforts of airports across the UK to ensure that all passengers receive the standard of service they deserve. “With 18 airports consistently achieving good or very good ratings, and others demonstrating significant improvements, the industry is making strides in returning accessibility levels to those seen before the Covid-19 pandemic. “It’s also important to acknowledge that there is still a way to go in providing a consistently good service for disabled and less mobile passengers across the industry, particularly for those with more complex needs, and throughout the busier summer months. “The UK Civil Aviation Authority remains committed to working with airports, airlines, industry stakeholders and advocacy groups to drive forward further improvements.”

Heathrow chief operations officer Emma Gilthorpe said: “We want everyone to have a seamless experience at Heathrow. “Last year we didn’t consistently deliver an appropriate level of service for passengers requiring extra support with their journey through the airport. “I want to reassure those passengers that we have put in place a strong plan which is turning that around and we are now meeting service targets. “We aren’t stopping there. We are also kicking off a £55 million investment programme which will underpin the delivery of consistently excellent service for this growing segment of passengers.”

Charlotte Morley, consumer affairs policy advisor at disability equality charity Scope, said the report’s generally positive findings are “a world away from the reality for disabled passengers who are still being let down far too often by the air industry”.

She added: “Far too many disabled people are left stranded on planes when assistance doesn’t arrive on time, or land to find expensive wheelchairs have been damaged or lost on the way.

“Instead of the industry marking its own homework, there needs to be much tougher punishments to reflect how serious these problems are.

“Enough is enough. It’s time to start fining airlines and airports when they fail disabled passengers.

“The Government has committed to bringing more legislation in, but it needs to happen now. Disabled people have been waiting far too long.”

Want a quick and expert briefing on the biggest news stories? Listen to our latest podcasts to find out What You Need To Know...