16 JULY 2018


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Article from BTNews 16 JULY 2018

COMMENT: Caring for the less-able

Media coverage last week of the CAA’s latest annual report on the accessibility services provided by the top 30 UK airports concentrated on the low ratings given to Birmingham, Gatwick and Stansted.

This is a shame, since the overall tenor of the CAA document was positive.

But it shows there is no room for complacency as the needs and numbers of less-able travellers increase. 

There are also questions to be asked about the conclusions.

None of the airports rated as very good are large. Luton is said to be good but does not have any air bridges and BTN has seen families waiting for help. Heathrow is considered good in spite of its size, which is a fine achievement, but BTN’s experience of Gatwick, one of those criticised, is that the help available there is excellent.

It suggests one danger from the study is that an airport’s standing is down to what happens on the day and one bad report might affect the CAA opinion. In BTN’s experience, airports for the most part do try.

Birmingham, Gatwick and Stansted were ticked off for “not meeting the CAA’s expectations” and have been told by the authority they must improve. In addition, fast-growing Manchester Airport received a ‘poor’ rating for the second year in a row; the only airport, as the CAA pointed out, to receive this rating this year. The authority said it had monitored the airport’s performance and had identified “issues in relation to long waiting times for assistance and issues with the recording and reporting of performance data”.

The importance of the situation can be gauged from the fact there are more than 3m requests a year for assistance at UK airports – a rise of almost 80% since 2010. However, the CAA said, satisfaction levels remain high, with 83% of people requesting assistance stating they are “satisfied” and 54% of those saying they are “very satisfied”.

In all, the report reveals 16 UK airports have been rated “very good”, up from six in last year’s review. The figure includes Edinburgh Airport, which was rated “poor” two years ago and the CAA says good progress has also been made by Heathrow, which has this year been classified as “good” following its “poor” rating last year (see separate story in this issue).

The CAA says its framework, the first of its kind in the world, was introduced to drive improvements in performance and help to deliver a consistent, high-quality service for disabled passengers across UK airports. Airports are assessed against a number of measures to establish how well they are performing for disabled passengers, including asking those passengers using the assistance service how it performed for them.

Consumers and markets director Paul Smith said: “We are pleased surveys show satisfaction levels remain high and the vast majority of passengers’ journeys go smoothly. The improved performance of many airports means disabled passengers should have even more confidence to travel.

“However, there are still too many occasions where things go wrong. We will continue to focus our work on ensuring that standards are maintained and improved, particularly for those whose experience has not been as positive as it could have been. Where we see examples of bad practice, we will not hesitate to hold airports to account and take the necessary enforcement action.”

Despite the bad scores by some airports, it seems clear the momentum is in the right direction, a point reinforced by aviation minister Baroness Sugg in her reaction. She said: “It’s essential passengers with reduced mobility or hidden disabilities get the service they deserve every time they fly. The CAA has stepped up its work in this area and plays an important role in showing where improvement still needs to be made. I welcome the progress made by airports to improve accessibility and will continue to work with all of the aviation industry to make flying easier for disabled passengers.”


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OUR READERS' FINEST WORDS (All times and dates are GMT)

All comments are filtered to exclude any excesses but the Editor does not have to agree with what is being said. 100 words maximum

Danny Bartok, UK

Compassion costs! The CAA has not considered the costs of this ‘free’ wheelchair/buggy provision for which airports are reimbursed by the airlines. Demand outstrips supply and the provision is abused by many people who have no need for assistance but want quick processing through the airport. Furthermore many passengers demanding assistance do not pre-notify their carriers making resource allocation difficult. In these circumstances it is just not possible to satisfy everyone. Attempts to make costs visible to users and abusers have been thwarted. See http://westminsterresearch.wmin.ac.uk/16534/ for an assessment of cost components.

John Davidson, France/Paris

On my arrival at Bangkok's airport about a year or so ago, one of the "greeters" looked at me (I had just had a fall that left me with lower back pain) and asked if I needed help, i.e., a wheelchair, which he had. I gladly accepted. He whisked me through all the arrival steps to a taxi within 15 minutes. After that experience (and still with a bad back), I asked for a wheel chair at each stop — from Bangkok back through Amman to Paris. It's a much better experience.