Regulator finds Heathrow poor for disabled travellers

Just as many holidaymakers look forward to flying out for their summer break, Heathrow Airport has received a ‘poor’ rating for accommodating disabled travellers.

A report by the industry’s regulator found that Heathrow airport failed to treat some passengers with “dignity and respect”. In fact, several travellers with disabilities waited up to two hours to exit planes, the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) said. East Midlands, Manchester and Exeter airports also received a low rating.

The CAA published its findings from a survey of 1,200 airport passengers needing help at Heathrow. Around 62% of people asked rated the service poor or very poor. The findings also revealed instances of unacceptable levels of customer service. Passengers’ needs were also not met and on some occasions, the airport failed to treat people with dignity and respect. They report added that practical issues still exist with the quality of the assistance service provided at Heathrow.

Challenges for travellers with disabilities

The regulator said that Heathrow, the country’s largest airport, faced particular challenges, including long walking distances. And trips for passengers with mobility problems would often take considerably longer. In fact, the airport’s contractor Omniserv would encourage travellers to make their own way through the airport, due to a lack of staff and equipment. There were also a number of occasions where passengers were forced to wait up to two hours for help when getting off flights.

The report however did acknowledge that Heathrow, alongside Omniserv, are working on an improvement plan to reduce waiting time and service quality issues.

Airport ‘extremely disappointed’ by findings

Heathrow said it was “extremely disappointed” by the regulator’s findings. The airport apologised to all affected customers and said it was addressing the issues raised. Meanwhile, Omniserve said that the company plans to invest significantly into staff training and continues to evaluate its performance in order for it to provide the best service to all Heathrow’s passengers.

The CAA said that Exeter, Manchester and East Midlands airports, also rated poor, had failed to consult with disability organisations, or even request feedback from service users. East Midlands Airport also suffered with excessively long waiting times, the report said.

Good ratings for 26 UK airports

However, the good news is that 26 airports received positive ratings. Glasgow and Glasgow Prestwick, Birmingham, Humberside, Norwich and Inverness all received ‘very good’ ratings. The airports rated ‘good’ were:

  1. Aberdeen
  2. Belfast City
  3. Belfast International
  4. Bournemouth
  5. Bristol, Cardiff
  6. City of Derry
  7. Doncaster Sheffield
  8. Edinburgh
  9. Leeds Bradford
  10. Liverpool
  11. London City
  12. Gatwick
  13. Luton
  14. Southend
  15. Stansted
  16. Newcastle
  17. Newquay
  18. Southampton
  19. Sumburgh.

The industry regulator said it saw an increase of 66% in travellers needing help since 2010. In fact, in 2016 three million passengers with mobility issues flew through British airports. The report highlighted how airports like Norwich, has developed excellent partnerships with local disability organisations, particularly those representing people with ‘hidden disabilities’.


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