BAA, owner of London Heathrow airport, vehemently denies claims that Heathrow proves to be challenging for disabled children transiting through its terminals.
In the run up for the 2012 Paralympics, the owner of London Heathrow disputes claims that there is an insufficient number of child fit wheelchairs at London Heathrow Terminals.
"I have reviewed your latest website article entitled London Heathrow poses severe challenges for disabled children," Mark Hicks, BAA Flight Connections and PRM Manager at London Heathrow said.
"There are a number of specific points in your article which I take issue with," Hicks continued. "The suggestion that there is “extremely limited availability” of child-sized wheelchairs. As both we and Omniserv have explained to you, the reason there is only one child-sized chair in each terminal is based upon demand. Very few disabled children use a borrowed chair. The vast majority of disabled children passing through our airport do so in their own chair. It is very rare that Omniserv are asked to use one of their own chairs for a child. Omniserv are not aware of any instance where a child-sized chair has been required and not been available because it was being used by another young passenger."
At London Heathrow, children cannot be carried on adults’ wheelchairs because of liability and insurance issues. "OmniServ very rarely receive a request which details that assistance is for a child, rather the notification is a standard request," OmniServ Chairman Ernie Patterson explains. “We become aware that the assistance is for a child only when the passenger arrives."
Both BAA and Omniserv are fully aware discrepancies in the reservation of child-suitable wheelchairs arise because of the lack of standard of communication between airlines and Omniserv. This was confirmed in the presence of Civil Aviation Authority managers, in a meeting held on September 19 2011.
However, BAA claims one child suitable wheelchair per terminal is sufficient at this time. "We do not consider that there is any need for Omniserv to adapt any of their [adult] wheelchairs. As I have explained above, and as has been explained to you previously, Omniserv have enough wheelchairs for children," Hicks reiterated.
However, personal experience proves Hicks' claim improper. Between August 2010 and August 2011, I transited Heathrow airport 5 times. In 4 occasions, the wheelchair available was not suitable for a child. In one occasions, there was no wheelchair at all. In all five cases, a regular booking for wheelchair assistance for a child had been made, and confirmed, with the airline.
Because of alleged lack of details of assistance bookings received by Omniserv, there is no official report on the number of request for assistance for disabled children at London Heathrow.
The need to seek wheelchair assistance at London Heathrow primarily derives from the behaviour of key baggage handler Menzies Aviation.
Airlines docking at gates serviced by Menzies Aviation at London Heathrow advise disabled passengers that mobility devices will only be repatriated at the baggage carousel area. This is common practice with Lufthansa, to mention one prominent carrier.
However, BAA throws water on fire. "As you well know, this [account] is not accurate," Hicks continued. "John Henderson, General Manager for Menzies Aviation explained the true position in the meeting on 19 September 2011 (which you mention earlier in your article). Menzies does not allow their staff to carry items which weighs more than 5 kgs up stairs. Where a lift is available at the gate, Menzies told you that heavier devices would be repatriated at the gate. Where one is not available, Menzies told you that items weighing under 5 kgs would be taken up the stairs where they had a “deliver at aircraft” tag. For chairs weighing over 5kgs, Menzies explained that their procedure is to take the chair to the nearest serviceable lift in order to repatriate at the gate."
Personal experience proves Hicks incorrect. In two separate occasions within few months from each other, Menzies Aviation declined to repatriate mobility devices despite the "deliver at aircraft" tagging and availability of lift at the docking gate. The mobility device in question is within the 5 kgs weight limit. Both cases have been filed with the Civil Aviation Authority.