Disabled passengers bearing the brunt of travel disruption, charities say | disability

People with disabilities are experiencing stress and humiliation due to “truly appalling” service disruptions caused by the ongoing disruption to travel, charities have said.

The train strikes and airline cancellations have been difficult for everyone, but activists say they are bearing the brunt of the turmoil because the transport industry treats disabled people as the lowest priority.

“Far too many disabled people have recently endured stressful and degrading travel experiences because they are constantly viewed as an afterthought when it comes to transport and when things go badly [in the travel industry] the impact is huge,” said James Taylor, the executive director of strategy at disability equality charity, Scope.

“On airplanes, we have seen too many examples of disabled people being forced to wait long periods of time for assistance, causing discomfort, frustration and huge delays in their journey,” he said. “On trains, disabled people can miss their stop altogether because the staff neglected to help them get off. People with disabilities are literally left behind – we are still a long way from a barrier-free society.”

Many people with disabilities are fed up with traveling because “it’s so much more tiring than it needs to be,” he said. “As summer travel increases, transportation providers need to stop putting disabled passengers last.”

A 2018 Scope survey found that 53% of disabled passengers requiring assistance were often held on an airplane longer than usual because their assistance had not arrived.

Fazilet Hadi, policy director at Disability Rights UK, said airports need to significantly improve their assistance services for disabled passengers. She said: “In recent weeks disabled people have experienced some truly appalling service outages and have been left on planes for hours with no communication or assistance.

“The news that a disabled person has died after waiting a long time for help is truly shocking. People with disabilities require a much higher level of support than is currently being provided, particularly in light of recent delays, cancellations and disruptions.”

Airports have canceled dozens of flights over the past two weeks due to staff shortages caused by the laying off of thousands of staff in 2020 amid Covid restrictions. There have been multiple reports of last-minute flight cancellations, lost luggage, long queues and holidaymakers sleeping on the terminal floors.

People with disabilities have been stranded on planes, abandoned in empty airports and reported that vital equipment such as wheelchairs has been damaged or lost.

An inquest has been launched into the death of a disabled passenger who reportedly fell down an escalator after disembarking from a plane unassisted at Gatwick Airport. Days earlier, the Civil Aviation Authority said there had been a surge in reports of “significant service deficiencies” at airports, including incidents of passengers in need of assistance being removed from a plane hours after other passengers.

The tragedy came a week after the same airport apologized to Victoria Brignell, who is paralyzed from the neck down after being left on a plane for more than an hour and a half when support staff failed to arrive.

“I booked the help three months in advance, so it wasn’t like I just showed up. They knew I was coming and I reminded them two weeks ago and I still didn’t get the service I was supposed to expect,” Brignell said.

Chris Nicholson, a former rugby player, said he had to drag himself up the stairs at Milton Keynes train station last week after staff refused to help him over health and safety concerns.