The CAA’s Airport Accessibility Report revealed that the number of passengers requesting extra help when travelling by air has now reached more than three million in 2016 – a rise of around 300,000 on the previous year.
The study, released today, said that the majority of UK airports are providing “very good” or “good” support but Heathrow, Manchester, East Midlands and Exeter had not met CAA standards.
The CAA recorded instances of passengers “not being treated with dignity and respect” and occasions were travellers were asked to make their own way through the airport due to a lack of staff or equipment.
The authority also cited cases in which some of the airports had “failed to carry out any consultation with disability organisations” during the period the report was produced.
A spokesperson for Heathrow said the airport was “extremely disappointed” with the report’s rating, adding: “They are not acceptable and fall short of the experience Heathrow aims to provide its passengers.”
“Addressing the issues raised in this report is a priority for us. We apologise to those who have been affected and are taking action, including the amendment and retendering of our contract with new and higher standards of service, to ensure passengers who require special assistance, receive the service they rightly deserve,” she said.
A Manchester airport spokesperson said: “We acknowledge the CAA’s findings and comments relating to consultation with disability organisations.
“As referred to by the report, this is an area we have already taken steps to address. Starting this financial year, we have launched a Disability Engagement Programme, with the first quarterly forum being held last month. In addition, we have also planned a Disability Expo for November this year to engage with a range of organisations.
“We are confident that this work, coupled with the ongoing representation of a disability organisation on our Consultative Committee, will lead to significant improvement in this area.
A spokesperson for East Midlands said: “For several months we have been working with disability groups and the CAA in order to ensure that we significantly improve the service we are able to offer our passengers who have restricted mobility.
“We have recently invested in new equipment that enables passengers with restricted mobility to more easily board aircraft and introduced a number of customer improvement initiatives across the airport. We will continue to work closely with disability groups and independent specialist consultants to deliver a significant improvement in this area.”
Of the 30 airports reviewed, six were rated “very good” and 20 rated as “good”, having performed well in areas such as customer satisfaction, waiting times and engagement with disability organisations.
Richard Moriarty, director of consumers and markets at the CAA, said: “UK aviation should be proud that it continues to serve a rapid increase in the number of passengers with a disability. Our surveys, along with the airports’ own studies, have shown high levels of satisfaction among disabled passengers and we have seen some examples of excellent service where assistance is well organised and delays are minimal.
“However, East Midlands, Exeter, Heathrow and Manchester have fallen short of our expectations and we have secured commitments from them to make improvements. We will monitor their implementation over the coming months to make sure that services for passengers with a disability or reduced mobility continue to improve.”
TTG was unable to reach Exeter airport for comment.