"Disabled flyers 'wait hours' for Heathrow help"
Disabled passengers at Heathrow Airport are being forced to wait up to two hours for help disembarking planes, a report has found. The Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) has labelled the UK's busiest airport as "poor" for its disability services - with Manchester, East Midlands and Exeter airports receiving the same low rating. The CAA's Richard Moriarty told Sky News: "It is critical Heathrow raises its game in terms of the service it provides to disabled passengers. "The good news is Heathrow recognises that, and Heathrow has put in place commitments and plans to do just that over the next year." More than a million passengers who need extra assistance pass through the west London hub every year, which is more than any other European airport. But a survey of 1,200 disabled passengers at Heathrow found 62% rate it as "poor" or "very poor". A spokesperson for the airport said they were "extremely disappointed" with the findings, admitting they "fall short" of the passenger experience they aim to provide. "We apologise to those who have been affected and are taking action, including the amendment and re-tendering of our contract with new and higher standards of service to ensure passengers receive the service they rightly deserve," they added. The UK's airports were graded based on a range of information - including how long passengers wait for assistance, how happy they are with the service, and how well the airport engages with disability organisations. The report found six airports - Inverness, Glasgow, Glasgow Prestwick, Humberside, Birmingham and Norwich - provide "very good" assistance. Another 20 airports were described as "good" - and London Gatwick was among them, where passengers with hidden disabilities such as autism are given special lanyards so staff are aware they may need extra support. Sara Marchant, a manager at Gatwick, said the airport holds regular meetings with disability groups to identify what needs to be done. Among the services is a family familiarisation day where children with autism can visit the airport before flying. She said: "They can practise checking in, they can go for a ride in a buggy, they can practise going through security. "All those things mean that when they come here to travel, children are more used to it, children understand what's happening and they've got that bit of experience." Penny Wilkinson has two autistic children and says airports are often stressful and difficult. "I would find it a lot easier if people were aware of their needs," she said. "I think sometimes to be with crowds - if it's really busy or waiting a long time - they sometimes might have a little bit of a meltdown. "So I feel a lot calmer in myself if staff are aware that they've got needs." Disability charities broadly welcomed the findings of the report but added it's vital airports take action to improve. Selina Mills, from Leonard Cheshire Disability, said: "You don't have to be specialist care trained to treat someone as an individual and to think about what they need. "Everyone has difficulties in airports, they're complicated places but I think you just need to make sure your staff know what they're doing." The CAA said it would continue to monitor standards. Transport Secretary Chris Grayling said: "It is encouraging to see the overwhelming majority of UK airports providing a good service for passengers with a disability, but I am determined to push the aviation industry to do more."
^ I have flown into/out of Heathrow with a person in a wheelchair numerous times and as I have written many times in the past Heathrow Airport is one of the world's worst airports for the disabled. Even when you book handicapped assistance months in advance and then reconfirm that assistance shortly before your trip when you actually get to Heathrow it doesn't seem to make a difference. Nothing is set-up or organized. I have had to push a wheelchair with one hand and our luggage cart with the other and transfer from one terminal to another without any assistance because what little help Heathrow does give is sub-par. I remember going to the handicapped assistance area in one terminal and thinking it looked like the scene of a Third World country. It was dark and smelly with disabled people "abandoned" all around and no employees to help. I quickly got out of there. Luckily the person I was travelling with had someone non-disabled who could help them. I feel extremely bad for those people who were on their own and at the mercy of the non-exist assistance workers. The airport itself is not very handicapped accessible. You have to go several miles from the plane to Immigration and when you are departing Heathrow you have to wait in a central boarding area that is not near any of the gates. Then they announce the gate number at the last minute - even if you have been waiting there for hours - and expect you to run through all the people. One time I literally had to pick-up the wheelchair and move it down several stairs to get to the gate area. There was a female airport employee who just watched even when I asked her for help or to at least call for someone else to come help. Then got "yelled" at by the gate agent for not being on time with the wheelchair - I let that little idiot have it and asked why the airport and the airline didn't help at all. That shout him right up and he looked like the true idiot he was in front of all the other passengers. I don't know if the people running and working (both for the airlines and the airport itself) think it's beneath them to give assistance to the disabled or if they simply don't care, but I have never had a pleasant experience at Heathrow and even though I no longer have to help someone in a wheelchair when I travel I still avoid Heathrow like the plague for all the past horrible experiences I have had there. These new findings only prove that the problems at Heathrow aren't just related to myself, but are a very major and important problem that has to be addressed and fixed immediately. I should also state I have flown into/out of: Gatwick, Stansted, Glasgow and Edinburgh with someone in a wheelchair and while there were some minor issues every now and then there were no major issues I encountered at those other airports. ^