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Disabled Passengers Bearing Brunt Of Travel Disruption, Say Charities

June 24, 2022

Disabled people are experiencing stress and degradation because of “truly appalling” service failures caused by the ongoing travel disruption, charities have said.

The train strikes and airline cancellations have been difficult for everyone, but campaigners say that because the transport industry treats disabled people as the lowest priority, they are bearing the brunt of the turmoil.

“Far too many disabled people have endured stressful and degrading travel experiences recently because they are constantly seen as an afterthought when it comes to transport, and when things go badly [in the travel industry] the impact is huge,” said James Taylor, the executive director of strategy at the disability equality charity Scope.

“On planes we’ve seen too many examples of disabled people forced to wait a long time for assistance, causing discomfort, frustration and huge delays to their trips,” he said. “On trains, disabled people can miss their stop entirely because staff have failed to provide assistance getting off the train. Disabled people are literally being left behind – we are still far from being an accessible society.”

Many disabled people had had enough of travelling because it was “so much harder than it needs to be”, he said. “As summer travel ramps up, transport providers must stop putting disabled passengers last.”

A Scope survey in 2018 found that 53% of disabled passengers who required assistance were often held on a plane longer than usually needed because their assistance had not arrived.

Fazilet Hadi, the head of policy at Disability Rights UK, said airports needed to significantly improve their assistance services to disabled passengers. She said: “In recent weeks, disabled people have experienced some truly appalling service failures and been left on planes for hours without any communication or help.

“The news that a disabled person died after waiting for a prolonged amount of time for help is truly shocking. Disabled people need much higher levels of support than those currently being provided, especially in the light of recent delays, cancellations and disruption.”

Airports have cancelled dozens of flights in the last fortnight because of staff shortages caused by the sacking of thousands of employees in 2020 during Covid restrictions. There have been multiple reports of flights being cancelled at the last minute, lost luggage, long queues and holidaymakers sleeping on the floor of terminals.

Disabled people have been stranded on planes, abandoned in empty airports and reported vital equipment such as wheelchairs damaged or lost.

An investigation has been opened into the death of a disabled passenger who reportedly fell down an escalator after getting off a flight without a helper at Gatwick airport. Days earlier, the Civil Aviation Authority said it had seen an increase in reports of “significant service failings” at airports, including incidents where passengers needing assistance had been taken off a plane hours after other passengers.

The tragedy happened a week after the same airport apologised to Victoria Brignell, who is paralysed from the neck down, after she was left on a plane for more than an hour and a half when assistance staff did not arrive.

“I booked the help three months in advance, so it wasn’t as if I just turned up. They knew I was coming, and I reminded them two weeks ago, and still I didn’t get the service that I should expect to have,” Brignell said.

Chris Nicholson, a former rugby player, said he had to drag himself up stairs at Milton Keynes train station last week after staff refused to help him owing to health and safety policy.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. June 30, 2022 12:22 pm

    It goes without saying that every passenger is important, but persons with disabilities should be treat as equally important, which in many instances they are not, unfortunately to some as an inconvenience, as considerable time and assistance is required to ensure they are boarded safely on any forms of transport, but especially so on Planes and Trains.

    Not only because of their disability, but for a disabled person, especially one who needs a wheelchair for mobility much time and planning as to be undertaken by the person with disabilities and any delay, however slight can cause major problems, especially so if there are other connections required, on top of the major safety issues.

    So, in many respects there importance should be a major priority and not the last, which on many occasions is the case.

    This should be a major priority for every transport provider and for everyone of their employees and it should be included in all equality legislation, with every aspect of accountability and transparency, with quoting ignorance not being a valid excuse, as should also be lack of staff.

    Apologies are way to common and while needed to be given, an apology is not the last word, but the start of correcting what went wrong, with legal penalties being imposed in every instance. Until these are done the transport providers will not take the issues as seriously as they should be doing.

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