The government are considering undertaking new measures to improve air travel for disabled people.
The move comes after recent controversy at Heathrow Airport when BBC journalist Frank Gardner was left sitting on a plane for almost two hours while staff attempted to locate his wheelchair, which they had lost – and not for the first time.
He told BBC Radio 4’s Today: “There are hundreds, possibly thousands of others who have this experience and all we get is these platitudes from Heathrow Airport, calling me by my first name and saying they have created a case number for you.
“Nothing changes, it goes on and on happening and it is just so frustrating.”
It’s a feeling echoed by fellow BBC journalist and wheelchair user Lucy Webster, who told the BBC that air travel causes her “a twinge of anxiety.” She noted that her wheelchair is frequently thrown onto piles of luggage and that she cannot use the toilet on the plane as the cubicles are too small, preventing her from taking long-haul flights. Lucy was even once asked to get out of her wheelchair to “make security’s life easier.”
“The plans announced today would go some way to making my experience better,” Webster, “But they do not tackle the most degrading part of flying: the attitude of ground staff and cabin crew. I was once asked to get out of my wheelchair, just to make security’s life easier.
“That particular problem will not be solved by more rules.”
The government’s proposal aims to limit the time disabled passengers spend waiting for assistance to board and disembark flights, and getting wheelchairs back to their users quickly in order to create a more “positive” flying experience. They are also considering removing seats in planes to better accommodate wheelchair users in the cabins and create space for disabled toilets.
While on paper these ideas are excellent, how they work in practice – given how long disabled people have been vocal about how inaccessible air travel is – is a different story.