Flying should be an enjoyable experience for everyone regardless of your requirements however, for many wheelchair users it can be very stressful. This is due to their equipment getting damaged or worse, lost by airlines. There are many stories everyday from travellers that have had bad experiences flying with their disability.
Frank Gardner, who travels widely for his job as BBC security correspondent was on his way back from Ethiopia and was stranded on an empty aircraft for almost two hours after staff said they had lost his wheelchair. He commented at the time saying, “That is your legs gone – it is a basic human right”. Last year a paraplegic athlete dragged himself along the floor through Luton Airport after his self-propelling wheelchair was left behind on a flight. And in November a man with a spinal problem was taken to hospital after he collapsed at Heathrow Airport while waiting for a booked wheelchair that failed to turn up.
These problems are affecting many travellers and unfortunately put them off travelling abroad. I haven’t flown since 2008 and from everything I hear I’m scared to try. Due to my wheelchair being specifically moulded to my body I don’t like the thought of having to transfer into a normal aircraft seat but, luckily that might not be an issue in the future.
A new charter could be adopted for airlines and in airports that pinpoints some of the key issues for disabled passengers – increasing the limit on lost or damaged mobility equipment, better training for staff and getting wheelchairs on planes.
There are a few airports that are already introducing new services to improve the experience for disabled flyers. Gatwick have specifically designed one of their airport lounges for passengers who require assistance and some security lanes are now accessible for passengers with a range of disabilities and staffed by people trained to recognise and respond to their needs. Glasgow, Edinburgh and Aberdeen airport have also installed Changing Place toilets for passengers who cannot use standard accessible toilets.
The charter is part of the government’s aviation strategy which will be considered in a 16-week consultation, due to begin this month. The government says the policy will be finalised next year, which I hope the government will stick to. The new policy could result in positive change for all passengers and allow everyone to feel more confident when flying from a UK airport.