Heathrow T1: Arriving Young Travellers’ Safety Put at Risk Over Handler Row
- Written by Roberto Castiglioni
The safety of infant and toddlers arriving at London Heathrow terminal 1 can be put at risk because of a row over Health and Safety regulations.
Couples and single parents traveling with infant and toddlers arriving at Heathrow Terminal 1 may be forced to have to carry their children without a stroller for up to half a mile. The unthinkable welcome treat relates to a stance on Health and Safety regulation by luggage handler Menzies Aviation.
When thinking about reduced mobility, the human mind naturally envisions a state of permanent impairment. However, we all face a state of reduced mobility during early stages. Infants and toddlers are persons with temporary reduced mobility due to their age and the inability or difficulty to walk.
In today's world traveling by air is an experience common to most individuals. It is not uncommon to observe families with infants and toddlers traveling short or long haul; and it is far from unusual to meet single women traveling with one or more infants.
As air transport numbers rise, so does the size of airport terminals. When traveling through main hubs, strolls from the arrival gate to immigration halls and on to baggage carousels feel like mini marathons.
Common sense dictates that buggies and strollers are available at the arrival gate, to allow parents to move their little ones safely and with ease. Unfortunately for parents, common sense is not always common heritage.
Some Airports have a policy of not delivering buggies and strollers at the gate. This is the case of Dubai International Airport. However, the airport managing company provides complimentary McLaren buggies at arrival gates on first-come, first-serve basis. While not wholly bullet-proof, this free service provides means to reach the baggage carousel lounge in safety and comfort.
Unlike Dubai, Heathrow Terminal 1 presents a much worse situation for couples and single parents traveling with infants. Menzies Aviation, baggage handler for most airlines docking at London Heathrow Terminal 1, do not offer delivery of buggies at arrival gates, claiming the service can expose its employees at risk of injuries.
Unlike in Dubai, Heathrow makes no provision of complimentary buggies. Nor passengers receive warning at their point of departure that their buggies will not be returned at the gate.
For personal experience with the Terminal 1 situation, buggies are checked-in for delivery at the aircraft door at the airport of departure. However, nobody bothers to inform travellers that once in London Heathrow, buggies would only be returned at the baggage hall.
"So much for family-friendly airport," I heard a woman shout at the dispatcher upon arriving at London Heathrow. The much inconvenienced passenger was referring to a recent ad of BAA, the company that owns London Heathrow. In the add, BAA promises "Family-friendly initiatives to make the airport as stress-free as possible, including dedicated family lanes at security, pre-flight children’s play areas and ‘kids eat free’ offers".
Traveling alone with an infant, the young woman had to walk without help more than half a mile from a remote gate the baggage hall, pulling her carry-on bag while holding a sizeable purse on one side and the baby on the other.
Luckily for her, the stroller was undamaged on the baggage carousel, allowing her to continue her journey through the airport terminal safely and with ease. However, it is not uncommon to see damaged buggies and strollers in the baggage hall at terminal 1. Items in need of extra care, buggies are handled by baggage handlers like any other baggage. "Airlines spend millions on repairs for damages that could be easily avoided," a source from customer services of a leading airline told Reduced Mobility Rights.
Reduced Mobility Rights understands a group of airline representatives sent a formal letter to Menzies Aviation in the month of August, specifically asking the baggage handler to change its policy and return buggies at the gate. The company has yet to acknowledge the airlines' request.
Menzies Aviation provides baggage handling services for Lufthansa, British Midlands International, SWISS International Airlines and other partners in the Star Alliance. However, parents and children traveling on United Airlines do not share the grief of other passengers. United, which also docks at Heathrow Terminal 1, has its in-house baggage handling service and delivers strollers at the aircraft gate.
Speaking with a manager of Menzies Aviation, we learned that the company does not provide service to ensure its employees comply with Health and Safety regulations. The manager claims that employees could be injured when using gate ramps to get buggies from the airplane cargo hold to the gate.
However, the company accepts delivery of buggies and strollers at the departure gate. When asked, the manager explains that buggies are sent from the gate to the cargo hold area via slides.
All new gates at London Heathrow Terminal 1 now feature elevators that baggage handlers and dispatchers can use to ascend and descend from gates. Nevertheless, Menzies Aviation seems to be disinclined to listen to the request of airlines and passengers.