Repeated failure of airport access support

The busy holiday season is fast approaching. Although for disabled passengers fortunate enough to have booked a holiday abroad, it may be a cause for concern. 

The tragic news of a passenger fatality at Gatwick airport earlier in the week has highlighted once again how poor the access protocols are at UK airports.

A Gatwick airport spokesman has said that the passenger with restricted mobility [PRM] left the plane rather than waiting for staff to return and fell while going up an escalator. Staff shortages did not play a role in the incident. 

The news comes after hundreds of passengers with restricted mobility share their appalling stories of being left on aircraft for hours and even having to telephone the police for help because of the failings. 

Travel chaos

Airlines and their network of support staff, including baggage handlers, security, caterers and assistance service firms work together as an ecosystem to ensure that the beginning of our holiday gets off to a flying start.

But this, unfortunately, isn’t always the case. The UK experienced long delays over the half term and Platinum Jubilee weekend, resulting in missed flights and tens of thousands of upset holiday goers. Apologies were issued from British Airways, TUI and EasyJet.

To prevent a repeat of the chaos airlines have been told to cancel upcoming summer flights that they cannot fulfil. Gatwick airport has already confirmed that they will be reducing the number of flights throughout July and August.

Both airlines and unions told MPs on the Commons Business Committee that the staffing shortages blighting the industry were likely to persist over the summer – which will only exacerbate the anxiety of disabled travellers. 

Disabled passengers say this is nothing unusual.

Unfortunately, long delays are an all too common experience for disabled passengers. Many are being hurt, humiliated and unfortunately as recent news has shown killed by the lack of access support services. 

Staff resourcing issues have always impacted how disabled members of the public are treated.

An investigation is underway following the death of a disabled passenger at Gatwick Airport, who reportedly fell after getting off the plane without a helper.

Fazilet Hadi, the head of policy at Disability Rights UK comments on a disabled passenger being abandoned on a plane:

 “The current situation for all airline passengers is appalling and for disabled people who need assistance, it’s a whole lot worse. Many of us need help to navigate through the airport and on and off planes, we are completely reliant on the assistance and when it doesn’t work the stress and anxiety is absolutely enormous.”

“Airports should never let these situations occur, they have clear legal duties under the Equality Act to make reasonable adjustments for disabled passengers and it is clear from incidents like the one described that this is just not happening.”

What can be done?

Airports usually appoint a private company to support the special assistance of passengers with reduced mobility [PRM]. Employee training needs revisiting the necessary lifting and handling processes to not only protect the passengers but also protect the employees.

Since 2015, there has been a significant rise in the number of passengers requesting assistance at UK airports, with four million requests in 2020, demonstrating that the demand is increasing. Emphasising the importance of correct training and supporting equipment. 


Stanley is the UK’s market-leading provider of innovative technology solutions designed to improve end-to-end customer experience and transform employee welfare and business efficiency in the workplace. 

Our experts provide extensive training on mobility powered stair climber solutions, which are designed to enhance the safety and independence of users. 

SoterCoach, the Manual Handling Wearable Technology, uses artificial intelligence to help employees avoid physical injury at work when lifting and handling. The non-intrusive device can reduce the risk of injury by up to 55%.

To find out how Stanley can train your team or help to reduce the risk of manual handling injury in your workplace get in touch at [email protected] 

If you have a complaint about airport assistance, the Civil Aviation Authority [CAA] recommends contacting the airline and airport directly. 

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