New reports add to the endless number of complaints slamming London Heathrow airport disabled assistance services and poor access.
A short break to Thailand turned into a nightmare for Jackie Stephenson and her partner, Keith Griffiths.
Mr Griffiths has reduced mobility after having both knee joints removed. The coupled requested wheelchair assistance at the time of booking their flights with Thai Airways.
Reduced Mobility Rights confirmed with Thai that assistance messages had been properly forwarded to both London Heathrow and Bangkok International airports.
On their outward journey on November 15, the couple had their first negative experience with assistance at Heathrow.
"We were first held at the check in desk for over an hour," Jackie recalls. "We were told to make our way to the disabled holding pen, where we had more delay."
Jackie and Keith were not allowed outside the waiting room, not even to get a drink or go to the toilet as no assistant was available to accompany them.
Their experience at return was no better. "On return, 26th Nov. we were picked up by wheelchair promptly from the plane, and transferred via buggy to a waiting room," Stephanie says. "We had an endless wait at a holding area."
According to the couple, the wait was so long that all disabled passengers in the lounge asked for a complaint card. "When we eventually got to the baggage reclaim everyone had gone."
Because of the delays, the couple struggled to make it to the bus station to catch their connection on time.
EC 1107/2006, the regulation concerning the rights of disabled passengers traveling by air, states that assistance must begin upon the passenger's arrival at meeting points inside the airport Terminal building, and ends when the passenger is helped seating on the airplane.
"Excuses we were told to justify the delay make London Heathrow airport a laughing stock," Stephanie says. "They told us that delays are caused by "not having enough wheelchairs", under staffing, and "new firm taken over, hence teething problems."
OmniServ is the contracted service provider for assistance to disabled passengers at London Heathrow Airport. The company has been on the job since 2010.
Disabled passengers complaints about poor access at Heathrow airport have been on the rise in the last few months. BAA, owners of Heathrow, are ignoring the problem, while OmniServ blames heavy traffic and immigration queues for poor access.
Despite numerous breaches of the regulation, the Civil Aviation Authority is unlikely to enforce EC1107/2006 because it lacks adequate powers. Four years after all other EU Countries adopted a set of civil penalties, the Department for Transport is still "considering" the option.
About the author
Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Reduced Mobility Rights, Roberto Castiglioni is an expert of PRM regulations and handling procedures and has personal experience as travelling companion and carer of a passenger with reduced mobility.
Roberto is a member of ESAAG. Chaired by the Hon. David Blunkett MP, the Easyjet Special Assistance Advisory Group provides Easyjet with strategic guidance and practical advice on the evolving needs of passengers requiring special assistance. Easyjet is the largest airline in the United Kingdom by the number of passengers carried.