The UK Civil Aviation Authority (UK CAA) has released its Interim Airport Accessibility Report for 2022. Sixteen UK airports were assessed for the level of service they provide to disabled people and people with reduced mobility; one airport, in particular, was ranked as poor and was noted for failing to make sufficient improvements.

Lift vehicle at airport for disabled passengers
UK airports have been praised and criticised in equal measure for their accessibility performance © SB2017GRK

Background of the Report

The UK CAA assessed the accessibility performance of sixteen UK airports over a seven-month period (April–October 2022), and the inclusion criterion included airports handling over 150,000 passengers per year. The airports’ performance was rated on providing timely assistance to passengers with additional accessibility needs.

The report focussed on the airports’ efforts to implement improvement strategies, innovative schemes that are being implemented at certain airports and the airports’ engagement with the UK CAA.

The main issue highlighted by the report was unacceptably long waiting times for assistance upon arrival. The problems were attributed, at certain airports, to an increased number of passengers being offered assistance which placed additional pressure on services; however, the report also highlighted that some airports are still failing to make any improvements to passenger accessibility despite assisting a comparable number of passengers in 2022 as in 2019.

Interim Airport Accessibility Report 2022
Interim Airport Accessibility Report 2022 – Rankings © UK Civil Aviation Authority

Airport Accessibility Rankings

Good/Very Good
Aberdeen International Airport, Belfast International Airport, East Midlands Airport, Edinburgh Airport, Glasgow Airport, London City Airport, Liverpool John Lennon Airport and Newcastle International Airport

The airports ranked as very good/good were commended for providing a consistently high-quality service, even during peak months such as September. The UK CAA offered praise to service providers and staff at the airports.

Additional praise was offered to Edinburgh and London City Airport for maintaining high service levels despite significant increases in the number of passengers utilising the airports’ assistance services compared to the same months of 2019.

Liverpool John Lennon airport in the sunset.
Liverpool John Lennon Airport was one of the airports praised in the report © Peterjgerloff

Poor/Needs Improvement Good or Very Good
Birmingham Airport, London Gatwick Airport, London Stansted Airport and Manchester Airport

The above airports were noted for showing poor performance during the initial quarter of the report. In addition to unacceptable waiting times for assistance, the report notes that some passengers at these airports even missed flights due to delays in receiving aid. Efforts by the airports, however, have allowed them to move into the good and very good categories.

In the face of increases in the number of passengers requiring assistance compared to the same period in 2019, Birmingham Airport and Manchester Airport were able to make improvements and meet the targets set for good service.

Enhanced recruitment efforts and new operational equipment are facilitating improvements in the services offered by these airports. The airports were also praised for fully engaging with the UK CAA.

Birmingham airport front of terminal.
Birmingham Airport has improved its accessibility score from poor to good © Adrian Pingstone

Poor → Needs Improvement
London Heathrow Airport, Bristol Airport and Leeds Bradford Airport

The above three airports were ranked as poor in the initial quarter of the report. Issues connected to increased passenger numbers and airport logistics have hindered the airports’ efforts to improve their accessibility performance.

The report notes that at London Heathrow Airport, for example, the proportion of passengers receiving assistance increased to levels exceeding those seen in the pre-pandemic period. In addition, ongoing issues at the airport are not confined to one particular terminal.

In Terminal 3, the report highlights issues experienced by passengers at handover points, with some passengers having to endure delays of over an hour. On a positive note, however, the report notes that general waiting times for arriving passengers have been reduced.

In Terminal 5, unacceptable delays in receiving assistance have also led to passengers missing connecting flights. In addition, the closure of security channels at some gates in the terminal and the closure of those in Terminal 2 have disproportionately affected disabled passengers and passengers with reduced mobility by increasing overall journey times. The airport has committed to reopening security channels at Terminal 2B and Terminal 5B gates by April 2023.

Other optimistic news regarding passenger accessibility at the airport concerns the announcement of a partnership between British Airways (BA) and the Queen Elizabeth’s Foundation for Disabled People to improve the experiences of passengers requiring special assistance. BA staff at London Heathrow Airport will be involved in training sessions for medical professionals from across the country; the sessions will allow physicians to familiarise themselves with the airline’s operations and the passenger journey to facilitate better support for disabled passengers and improve services.

Heathrow Airport Terminal 3
Heathrow Airport has improved Terminal 3 waiting times © Nick-D

Poor
London Luton Airport

The UK ACC ranked London Luton Airport as the worst-performing airport in terms of accessibility performance for every period under investigation.

Despite the number of passengers being assisted remaining at a level comparable to the numbers reported in 2019, the airport was noted for having failed to have achieved its performance targets and for failing to make improvements in the service and assistance it provides to disabled and less mobile passengers.

Areas of poor performance included unacceptable waiting times for assistance upon arrival and passengers experiencing delays in receiving help from airport staff to move from the border area to baggage reclaim.

The airport was also noted as not accurately collecting performance data to allow for proper scrutiny by the UK CAA. The implementation of beacon technology promises to improve future data quality.

London Luton Airport
London Luton Airport came under particular criticism for failing to make improvements © London Luton Airport Operations Limited

Innovative Airport Accessibility Schemes

Liverpool John Lennon Airport and East Midlands Airport have been praised in the report for providing personalised assistance schemes.

East Midlands Airport was noted for setting up a messaging service through which passengers can contact airport staff to request assistance as and when required. This innovative service allows passengers to maintain autonomy and independence when accessing airport services.

Liverpool John Lennon Airport was highlighted for introducing a service through which passengers can opt for assistance at specific stages of their journey rather than simply using a blanket approach.

Using a smartphone
Passengers at East Midlands Airport can utilise a messaging service to request assistance © Océanos y dados

Airport Accessibility – The Next Steps

The report, released only a few weeks after the International Day of Disabled Persons (3rd December), highlights the positive steps airports have taken to improve accessibility and the further efforts required to provide passengers with a more seamless, autonomous and pleasant travel experience.

The UK CAA plans to publish its full-year accessibility performance report in the summer of 2023.

Have you or your friends/family members experienced issues with airport accessibility? Share your thoughts and comments below.

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