Heathrow criticised by watchdog after disabled passengers missed summer flights | Air transport

Many disabled and less mobile passengers missed summer flights at Heathrow – one of the busiest airports in the world – due to its poor accessibility performance, the aviation watchdog has found.

Bristol, Leeds Bradford and Luton airports were also criticised along with Britain’s biggest airport by the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) in its interim airport accessibility report.

The CAA did not specify how many passengers missed flights at Heathrow but described the total as “unacceptable”.

Its report highlighted the “particularly poor performance” at Terminal 5, where “many passengers” did not make connecting departures.

Some disabled and less mobile passengers at the west London airport’s Terminal 3 were also forced to wait for more than an hour to be transferred from one piece of equipment to another.

Meanwhile, Aberdeen, Belfast International, East Midlands, Edinburgh, Glasgow and London City airports were rated “very good” for their accessibility performance during the period between the start of April and the end of October.

Paul Smith, the director of consumers at the CAA, said: “The aviation industry has faced unprecedented challenges, but too many passengers at UK airports have been waiting for unacceptable amounts of time for assistance on arriving flights on too many occasions.

“We strongly believe that everyone should have access to air travel, and we welcome the substantial improvements that airports have made for disabled and less mobile passengers.

“We will continue to consider whether we need to take further action where airports are not delivering an acceptable level of performance, and not showing sufficient and sustained improvements.

“We want to see immediate further improvements, as well as airports being well prepared to provide a high-quality service during next year.”

Earlier this year, the CAA wrote to underperforming airports to demand improvements throughout the rest of the summer.

While this led to improvements towards the end of the summer, London Luton came out as the worst-performing airport in Britain, having failed to reach performance targets and for failing to make significant improvements to the assistance it provided.

Bristol, Leeds Bradford and London Heathrow are still deemed as needing improvement, the regulator said. The report will be followed up by a full-year performance report that will include all airports handling more than 150,000 passengers a year, to be published in summer 2023.

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A Heathrow spokesperson said: “We are extremely disappointed by recent service levels which fall well short of our expectations. The challenges faced by the entire aviation ecosystem this year have set us back, but we are working to recover performance to ensure Heathrow is a welcoming and accessible airport for all passengers.

“We are committed to achieving this in partnership with our service provider, airlines and their ground handlers, working closely with the CAA and user groups.”

A London Luton airport spokesperson said: “We are committed to providing a simple and friendly experience for all passengers, and we’re sorry that we have fallen short on this occasion. Despite all of the post-pandemic challenges this year, LLA has consistently been one of the top-performing airports in the CAA’s customer satisfaction survey, with our special assistance service being rated four out of five by our passengers.”

A spokesperson for Bristol airport said: “We are disappointed with the results of the recent CAA disability survey. We will continue to work with OCS, the special assistance provider, to provide consistent and high-quality assistance to all customers and put remedial plans in place to address the issues to ensure we continue providing high levels of service and assistance our customers expect.

“Record numbers of customers with disabilities are travelling through Bristol airport year on year, and we take it very seriously to provide assistance and help that meets the individual customer needs.”

Leeds Bradford airport has been contacted for comment.


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