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Did UK Airports Sleepwalk Into The Assistance Delay Crisis?

  • Written by George Sensalis

ILondon Gatwick Airport bird-eye viewn recent weeks, not a day went by when a disabled passenger didn't have an incident involving air travel. These stories were often headline news. The number of people who were forgotten on airplanes or left to wait in the terminal building is constantly on the rise.

Kate Croston shared her mother’s harrowing experience at Manchester airport. “My mother flew out of Manchester to visit me in Australia. She couldn’t walk long distances, so I booked wheelchair assistance. On the way out in March, the plane to Singapore was delayed by over an hour because no one was available to provide wheelchair assistance,” Kate said. “She arrived back in Manchester to be told she would have to walk from the plane.”

Airlines have also come under fire for the wait passengers are often forced to endure when they are reunited with their wheelchairs. Long waits on this end can prove frustrating, especially if the wait has been fruitless and the chair was returned to them damaged.

Airports and their service providers are blaming staff shortages for the fall in the quality of airport services. With more disabled passengers coming through airports than ever before, it is no wonder that so many are left disappointed by the experience.

Last June, the troubling situation reached boiling point and prompted the UK regulator, the Civil Aviation Authority to write a letter to the entire aviation sector “The CAA is very concerned about the increase in reports that we have received of significant service failings, some of which have been highlighted through the media. These significant service failings are simply unacceptable,” the letter to the aviation sector states. “It is our view that, despite the current disruption, these incidents could have been avoided by better management of the assistance service function by airports and their contracted service providers.”

A recently surfaced document suggests one of the largest U.K. airport service providers blindly navigated into the crisis.

At the Independent Gatwick Accessibility Panel meeting in October 2021, Nick Galle', Airport Services Director of Wilson James, won praise for his work on a number of projects to improve accessibility at the airport. In his opening statement, he said “Wilson James is in a good place and ready to respond to an aggressive demand, they are currently over-resourced and kept all the staff during the pandemic.” The full minutes of this meeting can be found by clicking here.

Despite Galle’s optimistic statement, Gatwick airport has often been making headlines for a string of cases involving delays with assistance, on occasions blaming understaffing as the cause for delays.

Wilson James is one of my favorite companies because their core company values are very inspiring.” Roberto Castiglioni MBE said. ”But I must admit I am puzzled by Nick's statement; you can't be over-resourced and then blame staff shortages when incidents occur. Perhaps my friends at IGAP should give Nick a friendly grilling when they meet next.

 

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