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Heathrow Rules Out Compensation For Disabled Passengers

March 27, 2018

Disabled passengers who are stranded on planes at Heathrow airport will not be compensated, its chief executive says.

The BBC’s Frank Gardner criticised the airport after he was left waiting for 100 minutes because his wheelchair had been misplaced by ground staff.

CEO John Holland-Kaye said: “I don’t think it’s reasonable that we should take financial responsibility.”

He said Heathrow would aim to help disabled passengers off the plane within 20 minutes of landing.

On Saturday, the BBC’s security correspondent said that airports would only listen to disabled passengers if there was a financial penalty.

He has used a wheelchair since being shot six times by militants while reporting in Saudi Arabia, in 2004.

Mr Gardner told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that Heathrow was not the only UK airport where he had experienced problems disembarking.

He described one “extreme case” where a captain and first officer had to carry him off a plane because, after an hour of waiting, the only exit was via a staircase.

20-minute target

In an exclusive interview with Stephen Nolan on BBC Radio 5 live, Mr Holland-Kaye committed to a new target for disabled people to be disembarked from aircraft.

He said Heathrow will now be working to a standard of “20 minutes”, after taking advice from Mr Gardner.

He clarified this would be “20 minutes after everybody else has got off” the aircraft.

Speaking to the Today programme, Mr Holland-Kaye added: “We have invested significantly over the past 12 months to improve the service [for people with disabilities].

“[The airport has] over 250 new people to support them, new equipment but also training better in how to support people, not just with physical disabilities but with hidden disabilities.”

He added: “We are not perfect yet. We are much, much better than we were 12 months ago but we have a long way to go.”

Roberto Castiglioni, chair of the Heathrow Access Advisory Group, which was established by the airport to help improve accessibility and inclusion, said the “simple solution” was to introduce legislation to ensure correct procedures are in place at airports.

He added that airlines needed to share responsibility for failings.

“Some airlines do it better than others,” said Mr Castiglioni.

“[Mr Gardner] clearly mentioned that when he travels [with] British Airways he doesn’t have this problem, so it’s a matter of getting all airlines at the same level.”

On Saturday the Stephen Nolan programme was inundated with calls, texts and emails from listeners who reported major problems when travelling through airports across the UK.

One caller, Anne, highlighted that wheelchairs went missing for her and a group of six companions. Adam spoke of his mother being forced to walk from an aircraft, resulting in her being hospitalised.

Mr Holland-Kaye compared his job to that of the “mayor of a city” and promised to fix flaws in Heathrow’s provision for disabled passengers.

‘Best airport in the world’

He said the airport needed to make sure it had the right information on passengers, to ensure the correct help was available once a plane had landed.

He explained that, in the case of the BBC journalist, the wheelchair had been mislabelled and therefore did not go to the correct gate.

Mr Holland-Kaye said he would be using Heathrow’s influence to help airlines and their handlers improve their service and prevent such situations occurring in the future.

He apologised to any other passengers who have had a poor experience, and encouraged those affected to get in touch.

He said Heathrow Airport is “committed to making sure that any passengers travelling through Heathrow will have a good experience, and will be treated with dignity and respect.”

“We want to be seen as the best airport in the world for passenger service. We’ve made huge improvements, but clearly we have more to do, and I’m committed to doing that.”


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