Ministers outline plan for disabled people's air travel

  • Published
wheelchair user in departure loungeImage source, Getty Images

New measures to improve air travel for disabled passengers are being considered by the government.

They could include a limit on the time passengers wait for assistance boarding and disembarking, and quicker reunions with their wheelchairs.

The government said it wants to ensure a "positive" flying experience.

Ministers are also talking to the aviation industry about developing priority storage for wheelchairs so that they can be returned to their owners quickly upon arrival.

They are also considering the removal of seats to allow wheelchairs to be used in cabins - allowing those who cannot transfer or who require specialist seating to travel - and to create space for disabled toilets

Aviation minister Baroness Sugg said: "We have to do everything possible to ensure passengers are put at the very heart of our aviation industry and the flying experience is a positive one for everyone boarding a plane."

'I was once asked to get out of my wheelchair'

By Lucy Webster, BBC News

The issues these measures attempt to allay are all too common. As a wheelchair user, I have experienced so many problems that the mere thought of air travel causes a twinge of anxiety.

More often than not, my wheelchair is damaged. I have seen my precious motor (detachable, as the airlines like it) be flung with great force onto a pile of luggage, as if it were a bag of clothes and not my only means of independent movement.

I cannot go to the toilet on the plane as I need a personal assistant to help me and the cubicles are too small, so I have not taken a long-haul flight since I stopped travelling with my parents. I wonder if I will ever fulfil my desire to see, as an adult, the world beyond Europe.

The plans announced today would go some way to making my experience better. 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.

Mr Gardner, who was kept waiting on a plane for almost two hours after landing at Heathrow in March, described the government's ideas as a "welcome step" but added "we're unlikely to see actual changes in near future".

He said there is "still a long road to travel".

"Many disabled people rely on essential equipment like wheelchairs for their own personal mobility," said Keith Richards, who advises the government on transport for disabled people.

Mr Richards said that while wheelchairs are "too often treated in the same way as baggage" he welcomed the move to give them priority.

The government is due to publish its aviation strategy in early 2019.